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Four iPad Apps permalink

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Every day what seems like hundreds of applications for the iPad are released. A very small minority caters to architects, but nevertheless there are more and more, in a diversity of types, not just travel guides. Below are some apps that I've spent a little bit of time looking at lately.

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Architect Magazine | iTunes store page | FREE

The current AIA magazine uses the "patent-pending Media Deck™ technology" to display the pages of the print magazine, starting with January 2010. From a front page displaying the various covers, one can browse an issue either through an internet connection or after downloading it to the iPad (regarding the latter, I have not determined how to delete a downloaded copy, which is quite a large file). The iPad format is basically like a PDF or Issuu format, with some extra features. These include adding favorites, searching single or multiple issues, and emailing links for the text-only version of an article. These text-only views are also viewable while browsing, helpful for copying and pasting text.

Another handy feature is the hyperlinks on the pages, taking one to a web page (in an integral browser, not kicked to Safari, thankfully) or to another page in the issue. These are helpful, but their highlighting can be distracting, especially when they obscure part of a photo or other illustration; ironically they detract from the graphic preservation that comes with replicating the print layout on the iPad. The magazine can be read in either portrait or landscape orientation; the former is best because text on the single page can be read without zooming, but the latter's two-page-spread view requires a double-tap zoom to read, and another to zoom out and continue browsing. Overall the app is decent, offering the content for free to iPad users, but it is far from great. Its digital features (links, page and text layouts, searching, sharing) are an add-on to the magazine's print layout; it does not cater the content's presentation to the device. Of course that is A LOT of work, and I'm guessing Media Deck™ allows this and other publications the ability to have an iPad presence without too much expense.

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Dexigner | iTunes store page | FREE

Dexigner is a popular web page for design news, also featuring a large directory of links, competitions, events, and a monthly newsletter. My familiarity with them stems from the last, a well-curated selection of news in various fields listed in six columns. That being, I haven't browsed the site in a while, just clicking on the occasional news item in a newsletter. Looking at it now, it appears that the web page design and the iPad application are variations on a theme. News items take precedence in each, listed with the most recent on top; a thumbnail and title text are atop a black background. Both are simple and easy to browse, with books interspersed among the news items. Clicking on the item brings up a wideframe image and some basic text, formatted for the iPad. Links at the bottom allow one to read more about it on Dexigner's web page (in an integral browser) or share the item via Facebook, Twitter, or email.

Navigation of the various parts of Dexigner is located at the bottom (portrait and landscape formats work equally well on this application). These other categories include: events, competitions, geographical listings (here or there), directory, and more (books, search, subscribe, about). The directory is thorough but unwieldy, with letter listings in various categories (designers, organizations, museums, magazines, etc.); it is not as fun a browse as the news section. One general nuisance when browsing any section is the need to tap "back" at each screen to return to the root directory or main page; clicking the category at the bottom does not bring one to its main page, as one might expect, and since the app remembers the browsing location even when switching apps, this navigation can be frustrating. Overall the application is sharp-looking, easy to use, and a decent reformatting of content from web to iPad (not as great a leap as print to iPad, like Architect Magazine). For up-to-date design news it is a helpful app to check regularly, yet I still prefer the newsletter's curated selection sent to my inbox.

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Edition29 | iTunes store page | $2.99/issue

Unlike the other applications presented here, Edition29 is a creation solely for the iPad; it did not have a previous life as a web page or magazine. This development means their Houses series takes advantage of the device's HD graphics to present large photographs of contemporary residential architecture from around the globe. Since I reviewed their first House issue previously, here I'll focus on the differences between that one and the subsequent issues, specifically #3 and #4; readers should check out my earlier review to learn about the general structure and navigation of the app. One big change is the app itself; instead of one for each issue, they are all bundled into one application. One can then download issues from the main scrolling page and access them from the same place after they've been downloaded. From here the navigation, layout, and even advertising of the new issues is basically the same as the first two. If one exits the app and returns to it later, it thankfully returns to the point of browsing in the appropriate issue.

Differences are subtle but significant in giving readers a better understanding and experience of the houses. Many more interviews are provided, and now they run in the background as one looks at the photos for an individual project. The audio quality is variable, with some interviews audible at only the highest volume level, only to be followed by a good quality interview blasting through the speaker. A few pieces of video are integrated into the mix, but not nearly as much as the audio. These include an almost cinematic presentation of Parsa House in Iran by Pouya Khazaeli (#4), a poetic design with some unfortunate standardized construction and components, and Fran Silvestre's Atrium House, which uses short clips to show inhabitants interacting with the spaces, yet without audio or plans for help. Another change are the stacked photos that group a landscape-oriented shot with a panning close-up of the same view; the latter doesn't necessarily convey more information and looks odd on the screen. Overall the audio is the most helpful addition, a well-done layering over the beautiful photos.

Of course, the mix of content serves to present some striking architecture. Of issues #3 and #4, I find the former issue a better collection of residential architecture. It includes the 360 house by Subarquitectura, Flag by propeller z, Maja's House by Ultra Architects, the Merry-Go-Round House by Ira Koers, and Villa V in T by Beel and Achtergael Architects.

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Houzz | iTunes store page | FREE

Houzz is "a community of home design enthusiasts from around the world" that bills itself as "the online version of cutting pages out of magazines and stuffing them in a folder." It is a user-generated image database of house photos grouped by space (bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, etc.), further categorized by style (contemporary, traditional, tropical, etc.) and metropolitan area (mainly US but a few international cities are represented). And it is the rare example where the iPad application exceeds the quality and usability of the web page; the latter has a simple interface that is easy to navigate, but the former is so intuitive it would be hard to return to the web page after using it. It's as if the idea of Houzz was made for the iPad, the touch swiping for browsing of photos works so well.

Houzz is aimed at providing visual inspiration to homeowners looking to make fairly specific changes, or at least that is how I'd use it. Looking to remodel a bathroom, for example, clicking on bathroom yields thousands of results, shown as an adjustable grid of thumnbails on the right side. The other categories described above can narrow down the quantity of photos to something reasonable. Clicking on a thumbnail brings up a larger photo with one or more attributes (designer, description, link to designer profile); these larger photos can then be browsed with left or right swipes. Beyond browsing the photos, Houzz enables registered users, alongside the contributors, to create Ideabooks (243,183 at the time of writing!), which can also be filtered by spaces or other keywords. Houzz is a social network that is all about the visual, the photos of interior and exterior spaces. Many photos are contributed by architects, enabling those users who can afford it to get in touch with one (the scrapbooking ability of the site is helpful in that regard, giving designers a sense of a client's taste), but for most the question becomes, "what do I do next?" The Question section of the web page gives users a place to inquire about sources and other things, but ultimately the site/app is about the spark of inspiration, finding that right look that just clicks.



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