The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) launched their new app this week at a sparkling Covent Garden reception.

It’s the first app launch party I have attended, but the star of the show deserved the celebration and attention it received.

In function, the Materials World app is not revolutionary. It delivers the Institute’s rather beautiful magazine into a magazine reader app.  Nothing pops out, leaps in from the side, spins or dances. What’s so special about that?

Well, it is not a page-turner. The replica edition is there, cunningly hidden in the wings for anyone who wants to double-tap an article to see the original print view. The luddites can just read the whole thing like a page-turner if they wish – and what is wrong with that if they prefer it? 

But the default offering is all of the articles from the issue, and adverts, reproduced in carefully-styled HTML.  And that is the star of the show. Here’s why.

In the old days web browsers were pretty limited in what they could display and web sites looked rather ordinary as a result. Nowadays, browsers can make a much better job of displaying content, often by referencing java script and cascading style sheets (CSS) in the background. 

Good tablets and mobile phones run modern browsers and have powerful processors, so apps running on them can process more advanced CSS styling. A carefully-designed print page that looks (see below) can also look beautiful in HTML. Some of the clever stuff includes dynamic columnisation of content, and interpreting Materials World’s trademark chevrons.

To a print designer, it may be difficult to see what the big deal is. Many InDesign plugins exist that can help reformat print pages to fit tablets, don’t they? It is true, there are many apps that think like print and lock the app into portrait view on iPad only. You can then apply print visuals like drop caps and have pictures that slide into pre-allocated boxes and other effects that usually fall under the term ‘interactivity’.

But what isn’t ‘interactive’ is the content itself. Unless you have also built a landscape view you can’t interact with it on its side. Often, this content doesn’t translate to iPhone, and you most certainly don’t get the chance to interact with it on any of the  18,000 types of Android device out there. 

To be truly inclusive you have to deliver a reading experience on whatever device your reader has in their hand at the moment. Your content has to be liquid and flow in all orientations across screens of all shapes and sizes. Then you have to retrieve as much beautiful styling from the options you have left. 

This means a lot of trial and error with style sheets and the various queries that are applied to make them mobile responsive. The Materials World app has moved responsive styling to a new level for Page Lizard. Fixed columns, scrolling columns, background images, indented images and quotes all make for a rich and responsive reading experience. 

Consumer publishers can choose to deliver their digital editions to a limited range of devices which their target audience are using. Membership organisations do not have that luxury – they have to serve their members. If we look at IOM3’s key criteria we can see what led them their decision to be inclusive publishers:

“We considered starting small with a PDF page turner to test the water, with a view to investing in a more sophisticated version depending on success,” says magazine group editor Melanie Rutherford.  “However, on learning that mobile platforms are the preferred method of media consumption by a large margin (and not wanting to turn off a tech-savvy audience), we quickly realised that a mobile-optimised app would be key in order to capture our target market.” 

Download the Materials World app here:

Android users:

iPhone/iPad users:

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