Robot 6

Unbound | Unwrapping the apps

I thought that I might be writing about reading comics on Apple’s revolutionary new tablet, a much-rumored expanded version of the iPod, by now, but their September meeting came and went with no news on that front. So I’m still reading on my iPod Touch, which has the virtues of clarity and portability and the vice of tininess.

iVerse's comics store

iVerse's comics store

Even with the small screen, though, my iPod is evolving. Back in the Stone Age (six months ago), each comic or section of a comic was a single app, which led to a lot of little icons cluttering up the screen. Now a reader can use a single app such as comiXology’s Comics app, iVerse, or Panelfly, to buy, download, and organize comics, which is a more elegant solution. ComiXology has just released a free version of its app, which allows readers access to all the free comics in its app store, and it also has a Lite version that is 12+, as opposed to 17+, presumably for younger readers.

I assume the hidden hand of Apple has something to do with the fact that these apps have similar design and functionality: You pick your function from a navigation strip across the bottom, with icons for the store, featured items, etc., and you move from a list of comics to catalog listings by tapping and swiping, just as with other apps.

These apps solve a glaring problem, which is that there is no obvious way to find comics in the iTunes store. (Of course, there is no obvious way to find these apps, either—that’s why you need columns like this.) Comics are classed as books, and books are a genre within the App Store, which is the sort of tortured logic that only a software engineer could love. The book section is dominated by other types of books, and comics are not necessarily marked as such, so trolling through the iTunes store in search of something interesting to read is pretty much out. You have to know what you want before you go there, which makes it uncomfortably like the direct market, i.e., uncomfortably lacking in serendipity.

Panelfly's comics store

Panelfly's comics store

The individual comics apps make it easier to find comics, although each has its limitations. Once you get the app, you can browse the in-app store for interesting titles. If you’re more comfortable navigating on the big screen, both comiXology and iVerse have regular updates on their websites and offer e-mail updates as well. Panelfly lists available comics on the website but doesn’t seem to have any sort of notification. In addition, all three use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

As for content, comiXology and iVerse are definitely shooting for the Wednesday crowd, with lots of of individual comics issues priced at 99 cents each. Panelfly is more artsy, with a handsome, deep-red interface and a list that includes NBM, SLG and Picturebox. In addition to single issues, Panelfly offers full-length graphic novels such as Faith Erin Hicks’s The War at Ellsmere or Yuichi Yokoyama’s Travel. There is some overlap between the three; both comiXology and iVerse carry comics from Antarctic, Bluewater, and Image, for instance, and SLG titles are available via both comiXology and Panelfly. If you want Top Cow, though, comiXology is the place to be, and iVerse seems to be the only place to get comics from Archie or Boom! Studios.

The comics readers are different, though. Panelfly and comiXology have different readers, but they work in more or less the same way: Both zip you around from panel to panel on the page, following the same path your eye would. This takes a bit of getting used to. The comiXology reader has an optional page view feature as well, which shows the entire page before going from panel to panel; this is useful for orientation but is generally too small to be readable. Panelfly has the same thing but it doesn’t seem to be optional. The iVerse app gives the reader the option of viewing the entire page in the vertical mode or single panels in the landscape mode. Of the three, I find iVerse to be the clearest; their full-page view is actually readable, and their single-panel views are exceptionally sharp and clear. The downside is that they have to chop the comic up into horizontal strips; you can’t use the iPod’s zoom feature on the full-page view, and you have to rotate the device to landscape mode to read the single panels.

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For those who are curious, but not ready to make a commitment, comiXology’s free app is probably a good place to start. I e-mailed CEO David Steinberger yesterday with some questions, and he confirmed that the app is a way for iPhone users who don’t want to pay 99 cents can see how the paid app works; the free app is the same except it only offers the free comics. As expected, the free version is being downloaded more than the paid app, and in fact, it’s number 18 on today’s Top Free Apps list, while iVerse and comiXology’s paid app rank a bit higher on the paid apps chart.

AD.FCHS.cvrfileFree comics up on comiXology at the moment include a preview of FCHS, a new high school drama from AdHouse books, and all of issue 1 of The Darkness/Pitt, from Top Cow. “Top Cow didn’t want to do a second print of #1, so this is an ideal way for them to get more people exposed to the series and hopefully go out to their local comic store to buy #2,” Steinberger explained.

At 99 cents each, none of these apps is going to break the bank. Be aware, though, that the much-touted “free comics” include a lot of previews and issue #1’s, so they are very much a marketing tool. For those who appreciate the portability of the iPod and are comfortable reading comics on a small screen, though, these apps are a good way to sample new comics and buy individual issues at a considerable discount from the dead-tree price.



Panelfly’s slick, but awful. Comixology and iVerse both break the comic up into individual panels. Panelfly is just a PDF reader, as far as I can tell. The comics aren’t broken up for easy reading, and it sucks to navigate a single zoomed-in image.

Not to mention that Panefly’s selection is awful, at least for the comics I want to read. I’ve found plenty of stuff worth reading on both of the other two, but there’s nothing that remotely interests me on Panelfly.

Of the other two, iVerse has the better reader (slightly), Comixology has the better selection of comics.

I’m really looking forward to LongBox. I’d love cross-platform syncing of any comics I buy.

At least iVerse seem to rejig the comics to flow better on the iPhone…

Comixology seem to take pride in the fact that all they’re doing is moving across the page with a letterbox stencil (and still having to switch from landscape to portrait sometimes is a REAL pain)…

My only grudge with the iVerse app is that you can’t incorporate the previous standalone issues (e.g., Proof 1-9) into the app… That must be something iTunes and iVerse can work out…

Thank you for pointing out that iTunes really need genres or subsections beyond “books”… I’ve been saying that for a while, but one lone tweet on Twitter doesn’t have as much clout as you do!

It’s like going into Borders, and asking for a book on computers and being told that their store isn’t sorted by field or genre, but by publication date, price, or alphabetically by title…

Searching for known publishers (i.e. IDW, Dark Horse) or App maker (iVerse Media or Uclick) helps a bit, but you have to know they exist in the first place…

But whatabout apps for Palm, specifically, Palm T/X? The Palm T/X has a huge HD screen and is perfect for viewing e-comics.

How about some apps for Android .. given that it is the fastest growing and soon dominent cellphone operating system on the marked
And it has not even been out a full year yet

I’m going to second that request for a Palm application. I’m not sure what Palm T/X is, but WebOS is the future operating system on the Palm Pre and the Palm Pixi phones.

The Palm Pre (after only a single release) has already been labeled by most critics as the best alternative phone to the iPhone, it would seem wise to develop a comic app for it. If anything, the Palm Pre is the phone that has the strongest buzz with kids these days- THAT should mean something for people trying to sell comics.

While most of these are print comics being adapted for the iPhone/iPod – there are a few original comics that are being made specifically for the screen like Super Kaiju Hero Force ( and Gideon’s Trip ( that work better without all the zooming and cut up panels.

I have to say I much prefer Comixology’s philosophy (and I guess Panelfly’s though it’s not available here yet) of staying faithful to the original comic to iVerse’s approach and I’m glad it seems to be winning for now (with Marvel’s PSP digital comics seeming to use a similar system). IVerse’s fixed landscape chunks might work for some comics but when the page layout doesn’t happen to support the landscape format very well, things simply get butchered. I guess it’s like subtitles vs dubbing for foreign films, you have to make some compromise about how close you want to stick to the original vision of the artists.

There’s also Ave!comics btw which is available on multiple platforms including the iphone, but it mostly has original French comics, only one or two series translated into English and some public domain stuff.

I’ve been using comiczeal to read cdr files I already have during my daily commute.
I’m impressed with how well it works.

Android anyone? iPhone isn’t the only option out there.

I think Panelfly is definietly the sweetest of the three. I’m not sure what jason is talking about as it reads very similarly to the comixology app, and isn’t just a glorified PDF reader. What makes Panelfly best is the fact that its so much more visually pleasing than the others. Hope they can come up with a free app soon for people to browse!

I think ComiXology has the superior app, both in terms of selection and the organization of the store. I do find constantly turning my iPhone’s orientation a pain sometimes. Even though the iVerse app crops comics more severely, it’s nice sometimes to just flip from panel to panel without turning the phone. I’m dropping a surprising amount of money on comics on the iPhone, and really enjoying it.

As for Android, the Palm OS and Web OS, I’m sure if anyone writes comparable programs for those platforms it’ll be reporting on here. But so far Apple has sold 50 million iPhones and iPod Touches, so it’s understandable that this platform is getting most of the developers’ attention. Sony has also sold 50 million PlayStation Portables, and the PSP will get it’s own comic reader soon.

Okay, I understand the whole “keeping the integrity of the original comic” idea, but an iphone is nowhere near the same as a printed comic book. To work to a new audience, the comics *should* be adapted (in my personal opinion), otherwise it’s like going to see a movie of a book which is just hours of text for you to read (possibly with the occasional illustration thrown in.

With larger readers (Apple’s rumoured iTablet, a colour Kindle or Sony Reader) the comics would be fine, but a tiny screen like a phone needs to have the comic adapted to work and flow better.

Some comics are actually already bearing this in mind, with the latest series of Atomic Robo, for example, apparently already leaning to “widescreen” panels that can more easily be converted to iPhone screens.

I read comics in print format and on the iPhone.
In fact iVerse’s version of Atomic Robo made me buy the trade!

The reading experience on the iPhone should be just as natural as reading the paper version. You shouldn’t have to pan and zoom.

Anyhoo, that’s just my two pence worth.

As far as I know the iVerse app is going to be on Android soon, as well as on the PSP. My own comic ‘Stolen Suns’ is distributed by iVerse and available in the app. I would also want to point out that the first issue is completely free and has been specially created for the iPhone screen, so no resizing craziness here. If comics are going to work on the smartphones I would think that they have to be designed for it. Taking a print comic and cutting it to pieces is not the best solution (although it works pretty well).
If you want to check my book look for it in the iVerse app or do a search in iTunes for Stolen Suns.

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