Having recently moved out of the family house, I’m experiencing independence like I’ve never felt it before; one of the things I like to do with this new-found freedom is cook.
Some of my friends believe that food is nothing more than fuel, and should not be romanticized; but if you are like me and believe that cooking is an art, not a chore, you’ll want to keep reading and find out about how you can get kitchen inspiration on your iPad, with Gourmet Live.
Before we get started, it’s important that you understand a few basics about Gourmet Live:
- Gourmet Live is the current incarnation of Gourmet Magazine (RIP).
- Gourmet Live content is only available on iPad.
- Gourmet Live is free.
That being said, let’s get to business. Gourmet Live feels like a premium, magazine experience right from first launch. When you open the app, you are shown the cover of the latest issue as everything loads, which is usually a beautiful food-photograph, and a welcome to the featured chef.
When Gourmet Live is done loading, it fades seamlessly into a grid of the issue’s stories, with large full-color images and superimposed headlines. I’m struck by how well-conceived the typography is in this section; it’s truly a pleasure to look at.
Reading a Story
To read a story, simply tap on one of the pictures in the main screen; immediately, a progress spinner will appear, and after a few seconds, the article will fade into view. Stay at the top to admire the large photograph, and scroll down to read the story, and check out the included recipe!
Gourmet Live uses HTML and CSS to construct the perfectly elegant article-reading view.
Articles appear to just be normal web views, but they are styled so carefully that you wouldn’t know it: it feels just like you’re reading a real magazine. A lot of magazine and newspaper apps will go the route of custom text rendering (like Financial Times), or just using large images (like Wired, or any other iPad magazine app created in collaboration with Adobe); while this allows for more control over the appearance and layout of text, it can also result in unexpected user experience problems: users are confused about why they can’t select text, or the app takes up several gigabytes.
In the Gourmet Live article reader, you can adjust text-size by tapping the Aa button in the upper right-hand corner. Due to the great typographical choices, articles will continue to look good at any text-size, so feel free to make reading as comfortable as possible!
That’s why I’m so glad to see that Gourmet Live uses HTML and CSS to construct its article views: it shows that you can have a really good, iPad-specific user experience without compromising important factors like data footprint and user experience.
To mark a story as a favorite, just tap the heart-button in the upper right-hand corner!
Read Gourmet Live, Get Rewards
You may be wondering how issues of Gourmet Live are delivered. Indeed, there’s no standard in the iPad magazine community: some magazines deliver issues by In App Purchase, others have a separate application per issue, and presumably some deliver them through normal app updates. One of the benefits of Gourmet Live being completely free is that they didn’t have to come up with a complicated mechanism for issue delivery, while taking into account subscriptions and so forth (which are notoriously difficult to model using Apple’s In App Purchase system).
What happens in Gourmet Live is that when you read articles, periodically you’ll be “rewarded” with a new issue. The great thing about this is that it keeps me coming back! It’s always a pleasant surprise to be reading about a fascinating meal, or an interview with a top chef, and to be notified of one of these “rewards”.
When Gourmet Live rewards you with a new issue, you can choose to jump directly to it (by tapping View Now) or continue reading what you’re reading.
Browsing Your Issues
Gourmet Live wouldn’t be that useful if you could only view the current issue. Luckily, they have a great issue browser built-in, which lets you jump between any of your previously downloaded issues. What’s more, you can also view a grid of all the recipes you’ve marked as favorites! I love this especially, because often I’ll see something that I want to cook later. Now I won’t forget about it!
See a grid of all your previously downloaded issues, or thumb through recipes you have marked as favorite!
Areas for Improvement
Performance & Crashing
On the whole, Gourmet Live performs pretty well; stories take a little longer to load than I would like, but it’s certainly not a problem. Where things get really hairy is that Gourmet Live seems to suffer from some pretty bizarre hard-crashes. Rather regularly, when I’m loading a new issue, Gourmet Live will cease to respond, and the hardware buttons on my iPad become ineffectual. The only way to escape is to force the iPad to shut down (by holding the power and home buttons together simultaneously).
I’ve come across apps that crash, but this is something else altogether; an app should never come close freezing the entire device. I imagine that this has caused panic for many a user who is less experienced than I am in troubleshooting apps. I hope that this gets fixed really soon, since it is a blight on the face of one of my truly favorite iPad applications.
Social Game Mechanics: What Are Rewards Anyway?
When Gourmet Live first launched, the concept of “rewards” was a lot more confusing in the app than it is now, but the idea still leaves a lot to be desired. It seems like the “cool” thing to do in the corporate app-development world today is to incorporate “rewards”, “achievements”, “badges”, “goals”, etc. into everything. These sort of game mechanics can be sort of fun, but when applied to things that don’t need them, they just get in the way; I suspect that users will tire of this rather cynical approach to marketing, and the paradigm of simple non-social, single-purpose apps will be restored to its (in my opinion) rightful place.
I suppose I wouldn’t mind the “rewards” concept as much if it were really clear what I am being rewarded for: as it is, it seems like I am rewarded with new issues at arbitrary moments, by reading the magazine. I do like how it gives me reason to frequently open the app, but I feel that the use of the term cheapens the experience. Compare this to the paid Esquire app, where I am not bombarded with attempts at entering my personal, social life.
Social is good, but users want to be in control. Instead of having the option to tweet for me every time I am given a new issue of Gourmet Live, I would prefer to have the option to write my own tweets from within the app about specific stories that I enjoy, and think my followers would enjoy. Because Gourmet Live is free, I can see the importance of social marketing; if they are hell-bent on using “rewards” as part of their strategy, I think that it would make more sense to reward frequent tweeters with extra issues, and to make the regular issues be more “regular”.
Gourmet Live, with its unmatched visual design, is one of my favorite magazines for iPad, and I think it will be one of yours. Condé Nast has done a great job at frequently updating the app, and responding to user suggestions. I’d like to rate Gourmet Live at 10/10, but given the rather frightening freeze-up issue and confusing rewards system, I feel more comfortable giving it an 8/10 at this point. I am very hopeful that the issues I outlined in the preceding section will be addressed soon.
In the meanwhile, go ahead and try Gourmet Live on the iTunes App Store, and let us know if you liked it as much as I did in the comments section below!