What is it?
The Atavist, free, iPad and iPhone. Reading on a tablet is fundamentally different from reading in print. That's not news to anyone. But why, then, does nearly every major publication try to make an app that follows the traditional print paradigm. There may be interactive elements, sure, but there are still "pages" with fixed text and thumbnail images. The content, in many cases, becomes subordinate to the design.
The Atavist is a new publishing platform that tries to wed longform journalism and multimedia in a more sensible way. For the most part, your screen is filled with plain, unadorned text, which is a total relief, just like it is when you read something in Instapaper. But a rich multimedia experience is there, unobtrusively, waiting in the wings. Nice, full screen photographs are inserted between sections. Small arrows point to interactive elements in the text, words that are essentially links to relevant biographies, maps, timelines and the like. Tapping the screen pulls up a toolbar that lets you play an audio recording of the article while you read it, scan through thumbnails to any section of the piece, or, eventually, share snippets of the text itself over email, Facebook, or Twitter. You can engage with any or all of these multimedia offerings as frequently or as infrequently as is your preference.
The articles themselves, of course, are being produced especially for the Atavist. Right now there are only two: an biography of a Chicago jazz musician and a detailed account of an elaborate Swedish heist. They're both $3, which seems a little steep, considering that a few bucks more could get me a full issue of, say, the New Yorker, but I guess the point is that someone has to pay for original longform journalism. I'm not sure that the multimedia adds enough to the experience to justify the price just yet, but I can see how they would once they get a few of these productions under their belt. The iOS app works on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, and the pieces are also available on Nook and Kindle for $2.
Who's it good for?
People looking for an alternative way to support longfrom journalism on their tablet or reader, apart from buying digital copies of their favorite magazines; people who get easily distracted by the bells and whistles of current iPad magazines; people who like HEISTS!
Why's it better than alternatives?
It's one of the fresher takes on the "tablet magazine," and it's doing the tough, admirable work of producing its own content. The video, maps, timelines and the like do a great job augmenting the stories, which are already pretty solid to begin with.
How could it be even better?
Meatier articles; multimedia links that are less text-based (like capsule biographies) and more interactive (timelines, graphics); ability to buy a plain-text version of an article for, say, a buck.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod