iPhone comics from iVerse Media

Review by Tom Good

Comics ought to be a great type of content to read on a hand-held computer, but I haven’t been really excited about comics on a hand-held device until now. iVerse Media has created a great reading experience on the iPhone with their iVerse Comic Reader. This app could be a case study on how to make digital comics work well on the small screen. Here is a list of my requirements, and how iVerse satisfied them:

1. The text must be easy to read

I don’t want to look at tiny, blurry text, or spend all my time zooming in to read the text then zooming back out to look at the drawings. Having to manually zoom and pan all the time makes reading feel like a chore. iVerse formats their titles with one panel per iPhone screen, with the iPhone held in landscape orientation. This makes the panel around the same size it would be in a printed book, so no zooming is needed.

2. Loading the next page/panel should take no longer than turning a page on a physical book

Immediacy is a critical part of the comics reading experience. Loading the next chunk of digital content should take no longer than a second, so it feels like turning the page of a physical book. While in theory it may sound OK for a transition to take slightly longer, maybe 2-5 seconds, it fundamentally changes the quality of the interaction into time spent waiting for an aggravating device that can’t keep up with the reader. The iVerse comics change panels very quickly, with a satisfying and simple touch screen interface. I found it fun to use. They provide an option to change the transition to a fancy “page curl” effect, which looks nice, but after a while I went back to the default sliding effect, because I liked the feel of how the new panel moved over and seemed to click into place.

3. Obtaining content must be easy

The iTunes store makes it as easy to download a new comic as it is to get a song. Ideally I would also want to be able to subscribe to comics the same way I can subscribe to podcasts, and get new issues automatically when they are released. I hope this feature gets added eventually.

4. Offer a free trial

iVerse has several issues available for free (at the time of this writing), including OZ: The Manga and Neozoic. There’s really no reason not to try these out.

5. Keep it simple
I don’t need a reader to have tons of features, I just want it to work reliably and simply. The iVerse reader gets this right. It automatically remembers your place in a comic, and lets you navigate one panel at a time or with a slider. But it doesn’t clutter up the reader with confusing features.

I only have one minor problem with the iVerse reader interface: when you go forward from the last panel, it wraps around to the last panel, but if you did it by accident there is no convenient way to reverse the process. I wish that scrolling the “wrong way” from the first panel would take you to the last one, provided you have already seen it.

6. Content can’t be too short

I don’t want reading a comic to take less time than downloading it. If the content is only a few pages long, I’m going to feel kind of ripped off, even if the download was free! The iVerse comics have plenty of digital “heft” to them. When I got to the end I did want more, but I felt like I had read a full comic and not just a few panels.

7. Quality content and sensible prices

Great digital delivery won’t make a bad comic good. So far, I’ve been impressed with the quality of the iVerse comics. The black-and-white title OZ: The Manga is fun, though it does suffer a bit from not having as much visual style as the Dorothy of Oz manga. I really liked the science fiction dinosaur story Neozoic. Its colors look great on the iPhone, and it starts off with a witty explanation of why dinosaurs didn’t go extinct. The iVerse titles are all $0.99, which I think is a perfect price.

All in all, iVerse has done a great job, and I’d recommend these iPhone apps. Check out the video of the iVerse Reader in action.