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The Wiki Man

The Wiki Man: App happy

3 December 2011

1:00 PM

3 December 2011

1:00 PM

If you are a Spectator subscriber, the plastic wrapper in which your magazine arrived this morning is probably already in the bin in the kitchen. By now it has been joined by two sodden teabags, four strips of bacon rind and a couple of eggshells. Try to steel yourself now, pull on a pair of Marigolds and retrieve it. Because printed above your name and address on the slip of paper inside is something called your subscriber number. Write this down on a piece of paper and keep it somewhere safe.

In the next few weeks, after many months of development, the Spectator launches its iPad and iPhone application, use of which is completely free to Spectator subscribers. Or, to be exact, it is free to Spectator subscribers who can find their bloody subscriber number, whatever that is, for God’s sake, damn it. So I thought I should remind you to record this number now to help avoid any hypertensive episodes.

I have been testing earlier versions of this app for the past few months. It is worth the wait. Should you have an iPad or iPhone, it lets you download a digital version of the Spectator to your device from the early hours of Thursday morning. This means subscribers need no longer wait an extra day for their copy to arrive. It means expatriate subscribers no longer get their news a week late. And if you are spending the weekend with friends, it means you can enjoy your subscription from the discomfort of their rain-soaked cottage in the Cotswolds.

What is most surprising, however — something I did not anticipate a few years ago — is that you may also use this app to read your Spectator even when you have a paper copy to hand. It’s not much good in the bath, I admit, but in other circumstances a well designed magazine or newspaper application, especially on a large tablet, can be as pleasant as reading the same thing on paper.

Some of this is down to the genius of Steve Jobs, I’m sure, but a good deal is down to what is the real human sixth sense — known as ‘proprioception’: this is the awareness, even in the dark, of the way in which our limbs and body are arrayed. It is impossible to use a conventional computer or laptop to read a magazine except in a position you associate with work: typically sitting upright at a desk. By contrast you can use an iPad in bed, sprawled on a sofa or propped up on one elbow like the 12th man in an Edwardian cricket photograph — postures we associate with relaxation and enjoyment.

So the idea that the tablet may be the saviour of newspapers and magazines is not wholly insane. Certainly I have rediscovered reading the Times via the iPad — a habit I lost when they became a tabloid and insanely put the crossword not on the back page, but hidden inaccessibly inside.

Whether books work on a tablet, though, I don’t know. Amazon has recently launched a new version of the Kindle with colour screen and a large range of extra functions. This seems a mistake. Books require a degree of mental immersion: the conventional Kindle works well precisely because the only thing it allows me to do is read.

For me, an e-book which also allows you to play games, send emails or check your Twitter account presents too many dangerous distractions. I am sure it is theoretically possible to read War and Peace on a multifunctional tablet, just as it is theoretically possible to decode Linear B in a branch of Spearmint Rhino, but I suspect it requires greater levels of concentration than most of us possess.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.

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