There's no question that comic books and magazines will eventually have a portable platform suited to them, just as the iPod took nearly four years to reach a saturation level as the de facto portable music player.
The Kindle 2 might have been that device, had Amazon found color e-ink to be cost-effective. For now, though, we're stuck with struggling innovations, and iVerse Media has made a big push to get theirs out.
Earlier this month, just in time for WonderCon 2009, the big comic book and media convention in San Francisco, iVerse launched its comic book-reading app for Android, following on the heels of its iPhone app that debuted in November of last year.
The thought of cramming the detail-rich comic book page onto the tiny touchscreen of a smartphone seems ridiculous, because it is. iVerse solved the problem by chopping comics into panel-size chunks.
On both Android and the iPhone, you slide your finger across the screen to move on to the next panel. Slide it in the other direction to move back. Reading the story is surprisingly clear and clean, and although it may seem counter-intuitive, there should be no concerns about eyestrain from squinting because it's one panel, presented in high resolution.
From there, the Android and iPhone apps diverge in functionality, though the features remain largely the same. I tested the Hexed No. 1 comic for both the iPhone and Android.
Tap the iPhone, and an "i" appears in the bottom-right corner. It's small so it doesn't intrude on your reading experience, but it's also nearly invisible. This Information button wasn't as responsive as I would've liked, but hit it enough times, and eventually, it will open a window with a few details about the comic and the copyright info. You can also change your navigation method from Slide to Fade to Curl, with the last one simulating a page curling back.
There's a page slider as well, so you can jump panels out of sequence, and the app remembers your last page read when you return to it. Unfortunately, there are no advanced accelerometer features, nor is there a way to bookmark specific panels or sequences.
The Android iVerse app stars similar features, although accessing them is much easier because of the T-Mobile G1's Menu button. Press it to bring up four options in the lower fourth of the comic. Information shows a screen with tiny text, telling you who the writer and artist was, the publisher with a link to their Web site, and the copyright information. Hit Menu again to be taken to iVerse's Android store for more comics.
The Navigation button brings up a window with a slider and a text field. You can enter the page you want to jump to directly, or you can slide there. One of the problems on both platforms is that it's pretty clear that the panels are taken from a comic designed for print, but there's no indication what the print page numbering is. Since most print comics tend to be 22-24 pages without ads, it can be much harder to jump around if you're looking for a familiar spot--this is like having text search on the Kindle.
The Preferences button allows you to adjust your page movement. Slide and Fade are on the Android, but instead of Curl there's Deck, where panels change like a card being slid from the top of a deck of cards. There's also a checkbox for toggle page numbers appearing, but note that these are the page numbers in the Android app, not the print comic. There's also a spot where you can register the your e-mail address with iVerse, which will allow you to copy the comic onto your SD card.
A demo that iVerse produced can be seen here.
The selection of comics available is quite large, from 99 cent "Star Trek" comics to free comics starring Flash Gordon and stories from Boom Studios, a comic book publisher in Los Angeles. Frustratingly, though, each comic you download installs as a separate app.
The comics run on iVerse Media's proprietary comic book reader software, forcing each comic to be configured separately. I'd like to see more of an jukebox-style database interface from iVerse so that users can choose a comic to read from within a setting that keeps your comics together the way your music and movies are kept together. It's not a perfect interface, but it is definitely legible and a sure-fire way to take at least some of your comics with you without trying to shove a longbox's worth in your backpack.