Comixology iOS app develops new reading superpowers

Comixology app

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It’s coming up on four years since Comixology’s app appeared on the iPhone, and that 2009 release was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between comic-book readers and their mobile devices. In the intervening years, though, the app’s reading interface hasn’t really changed—until now. The new version of the Comics iOS app, released Tuesday, adds two new reading modes that will be especially welcomed by users of Retina iPads and the iPad mini.

The new version of the app lets readers choose a two-page view or a fit-to-width view, in addition to the existing one-page and Guided View options.

Comixology app
New options.

The two-page view is great for people with good eyes and Retina iPads. If you hold your iPad in landscape mode, it’ll place the left and right pages of a comic together, whether it’s a two-page spread or two single pages. This makes the text and art pretty small, but eagle-eyed readers might find it acceptable on the iPad’s high-resolution display.

This view has been available on Comixology’s Web-based reader for some time, so the company keeps a solid database of left pages and right pages. In my testing, I couldn’t find a single comic that mistakenly displayed a right page on the left. On older comics full of ads, advertising pages are just omitted—but the comic pages always stay in the proper sequence. (Users of the new app will be prompted to download an updated version of the comic in the background that contains this extra page-layout metadata.)

Comixology app
Two pager.

According to David Steinberger, CEO of Comixology, the two-page view has been a top user request since the Retina iPad debuted in early 2012, but making it work with all of the comics app’s other features was tricky.

“It was fairly challenging to make sure that in two-page-up you had the same ways to get into Guided View smoothly and exit smoothly,” Steinberger said. “We just kept at it until it was right. We pushed our developers on this and rewrote a lot of the readers just to make Guided View function well in two-page-up.”

The new fit-to-width mode also works well if you’ve got an iPad that you’re holding in landscape orientation. Previously, you could pinch-and-zoom to try to make the page wide enough to fill your screen, then slowly scroll downwards as you were reading. This is better, in that pages are always as wide as they can possibly be, making everything as big as is possible on a small-screened device like the iPad mini.

Comixology app
Making it fit.

“We had a lot of requests for [fit-to-width],” Steinberger said. “It’s not a mode I personally read on a lot, though I do use in on my mini.”

When it launched, Comixology’s app was notable for its Guided View mode, which walks you through the entire contents of a comic panel by panel—sometimes even word balloon by word balloon. Steinberger shows obvious pride in Guided View, but admitted that some people prefer not to use it—and in the end, Comixology needs to serve comic readers no matter their reading preferences.

“I personally drove the fit-to-width feature, because it’s been asked for, and we have a consumer-centric company,” Steinberger said. “A certain amount of your audience says that they want that…but especially for newbies, Guided View is a godsend.” Steinberger said that even among his employees, some of the “most hard-core comic book readers you’d ever come across,” there are people who have “completely converted to Guided View.”

I only use Guided View when I’m on an iPhone, and I greatly prefer reading comics on an iPad, where there’s space to see the full comic page. But Steinberger says that many readers, even on a Retina iPad, always use Guided View. And in the future, as more comics are formatted for tablet screens rather than the printed page, a Guided View-like experience may become far more common.

In the meantime, the premier comics app for iOS just gave readers two new ways to read their comics. And when I’m on my iPad mini, I’ll definitely be giving fit-to-width a workout. While I love the two-page view, I’m not sure my 42-year-old eyes will let me read whole comics in that mode, even on my Retina iPad. I need a 13-inch iPad just for comic-book reading, I think.

And don’t despair, Android users: Steinberger said an update for the Android edition is coming with these same enhancements.

This story, "Comixology iOS app develops new reading superpowers" was originally published by TechHive.

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