• IDW MLP Comics App!—An Indepth Review

    Well that tagline is a little misleading. They don't quite have "every My Little Pony comic and graphic novel ever created." For one thing, it's missing the original Japanese Manga stories that came out came last year. And for another, it's missing these gems from Generation One of MLP.

    tsk. tsk. tsk. Truth in advertising IDW. If you're going to claim to have every My Little Pony comic and graphic novel ever created, you must make sure you have every one. Otherwise you risk fitting the part of the fool.

    Joking aside, I've spent some decent amount of time playing around with this comic app. For those of you interested, you can check out my full review after the break!

    comiXology Purchases and IDW MLP Comic App Purchases

    I'm going to state this right now, there are parts of both apps that I like better than the other. Especially after the comiXology Comic Reader App got a huge and very cluttered face lift earlier this month. However it is a good idea to clear up a very common misconception regarding the IDW MLP Comic App and purchases made on comiXology.

    comiXology MLP comic purchases DO NOT carry over to the IDW MLP Comic App. This is not a bug. This is not a glitch. Purchases for MLP digital comics made only through comiXology will never carry over to this app.

    So, why is there confusion about the this? Because there is an exception that IDW was not crystal clear about explaining in their FAQ for the app. I reached out to the IDW MLP App creators, for clarification on the matter.
    If you have made purchases in the IDW app and ALSO have made purchases in comiXology, all of those purchase up to June 4th will follow you to the new apps. So if that’s the case, let us know.

    If you ONLY used the comiXology app (or other readers) before June 4th, we cannot import you catalog. We can only import if they were tied to an IDW app. All your purchases do remain with comiXology, and most of our comics are available for DRM free downloads as PDFs or epub files.
    The IDW app that IT is referring to is the company wide IDW Comic App that has been in existance for a few years now—which prior to June 4th was powered by comiXology. Meaning that the account was set up on that app was a comiXology account. And if you made comic purchases on the old IDW Comic App and made different purchases on the comiXology app, you had your purchase information spread across two different applications/databases that were being managed by the same company.

    Which is why IDW is able to offer importing of comics from comiXology for those people who have made purchases on BOTH comiXology AND the IDW Comic App prior to June 4th. The IDW Comic App is still owned by IDW, and all the purchases made on that app were from IDW, even though the app was being managed by comiXology.

    Why is this no longer possible? Because comiXology is no longer managing the IDW Comic app, or any of the recently launched comic line specific IDW Comic Apps (like the IDW MLP App). Madefire, the company that made the IDW Motion Comics, is now running the app. Which is why the MLP Motion Comics are on there.

    Furthermore, you will not lose your comiXology, iTunes, or Google Play purchases that you've already bought on those accounts. You already own them on those apps. You've hopefully already downloaded them. You haven't lost anything you already have. This is just another means for IDW to get people to buy their comics.

    Make sense?

    App Layout

    I love the layout of this app. It's so simple. You have the major products that the company is wanting to push right up front with the absolute latest released issue as the single largest clickable object on the touchscreen. Below that, we have the two MLP Series that did have releases that week (and in the case of FIENDship probably won't have another release ever again).

    Beneath that the app is broken up into the following categories in this exact order:

    • New This Week—self explanatory
    • Recent Releases—Issues featured are the previous nine comics released by IDW.
    • Featured Series—Specific clickables for Friendship is Magic, FEINDship is Magic, Friends Forever, and the Micro Series
    • Motion Books—Links to the motion comics that Madefire created and released from July 2013 through August 2014
    • Free—Direct links to Friendship is Magic #1, Friends Forever #1, and Micro Series #1. Did I mention that these comics are free to download on the app?

    It's nice. It's organized. If Twilight Sparkle were to look at it she would probably give it her seal of approval.

    Now let's compare that to the mess comiXology recently updated their app too.

    Keep in mind that's the default settings for the new app. Yes it takes a heck of a lot longer to find anything. Yes it is so much worse when you don't use comiXology's archive feature on their website. Ya know, to hide the comics that you've already read. 

    Also, why do they have to repeat the same information three times on the screen when the app is set to the on device setting?

    Considering that they also removed the ability to purchase comics from inside the app previous to this (for all devices except Amazon's Kindle Readers) and it's clear that this app is starting to go to the wayside for those exclusively reading MLP Comics.

    Yeah, the IDW MLP app has comiXology beat by a long shot in terms of layout.

    In App Purchases

    If the above layout looks familiar, well you're not wrong in thinking that it looks similar to the iBooks in-app purchase subscreen that pops-up whenever you're trying to buy something. However there are plenty of differences that make these two interfaces unique from one another.

    For one, what you see in the above image is everything there is on app page. You get:

    • The title of the issue
    • The cover
    • The description of the issue
    • A button to buy the issue
    • And a five page preview of the issue containing one cover, the credits page, and three comic pages.

    That's it.You don't get related titles. You don't get reviews. You don't get an option to download a "sample" (which contains a cover, possibly an alternate cover, and the credits page). Everything on the page is related to the comic. You don't have to worry about anything else.

    The reasoning behind this is obvious. The app is operating under the assumptions that you've downloaded this app on purpose, that you navigated to this page on purpose, and that you actually know what you are looking for. 

    You wouldn't be at this page if you weren't considering to buy this digital comic—or in my case review this comic app.

    But the best part about this set up is that the five page preview in this app is actually readable. That's something that hasn't been possible in the iTunes app for nearly two years. And comiXology certainly does not offer in app previews. They also don't offer website previews, but that is a separate issue entirely.

    There are two shortcomings with this app. The first is that the app doesn't toss up the previews for everyone to take a gander at before the actual issue comes out. In this regard, had the iBooks version of the comics previews actually stayed legible, iBooks would have this app beat in this regard. And since Apple does release previews of their digital version of the comic, I don't see any reason why IDW can't do the same on their own app. Actually being able to pre-order a digital comic is nice. The only thing better would be the second shortcoming.  

    And that shortcoming is not having the ability to subscribe to the comic series. comiXology offers a service to their users, where after choosing to subscribe to a particular comic series you don't have to worry about remembering to buy the digital comic again. Every time an issue published, also known as once a month, your preferred method of payment (usually paypal) gets automatically billed for the purchase and you can download the comic the second it is available on comiXology. In the case of the MLP Comics, that's usually 12:00 AM Wednesday morning.

    It's really nice having the option to download your comics basically the second the release date arrives. Of course, most people are usually asleep by then, but I digress. A subscription option would be a fine addition to this app.

    Reading Experience—Comics

    The reading experience on this app is different between the iPad and the iPhone/iPod Touch. I'll start with the iPad.

    iPad—The reading experience on the iPad is the same as the default experience on the comiXogoy app. Meaning each page is shown in its entirety. One page at a time for the entire twenty-two page comic. The difference between the IDW app and comiXology is that you can zoom in on the panels with a double tap on the screen in the location you want to see better, while on comiXology you can swap between full page reading and guided panel reading.

    Guided panel on an iPad, let alone an iPad Mini, looks weird.

    Reading the MLP Comics through the app on an iPad is a solid experience.

    iPhone/iPod Touch—There's a very good reason why comiXology developed the guided panel reading experience for their comic reading app. The short of it is this: up until very recently reading a shrunken down version of a 10 1/4 inches X 6 3/4 inches comic book down to fit a 3.5 inches (diagonally measured) screen is very hard to read.

    Even on my iPhone 5S, it was really hard to read any of the comics. The zoom in feature, while slightly helpful, is more cumbersome to use on iPhone models 5s and below. Using that feature breaks the narrative so much that it's often hard to get invested in the story. Yes I have already read every comic offered on the app, but even having that foreknowledge didn't help much when trying to read the comic from start to finish.

    I gave up partway through. The comics are just unreadable on those devices.

    With that said, once you hit the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus the issue of readability resolves itself. A 4.7 inches (diagonally measured) screen for the iPhone 6 creates a reading experience that is two inches shorter than the MLP Micro Fun Pack comics (diagonally measured). A 5.5 inches (diagonally measured) screen for the iPhone 6 Plus creates a reading experience that is less than an inch shorter than the MLP Micro Fun Pack comics (diagonally measured).

    I do not recommend reading these comics on an iPhone that isn't the iPhone 6 of the iPhone 6 Plus. Anything prior to the latest iteration of the iPhone is just too hard to read on that small a screen.

    Reading Experience—Motion Comics

    There is so much that can be done with motion comics. You can partially animate the panels. You can add music, voice acting, special effects, an opening introduction. Heck, motion comics exist where the comics are just short of being fully animated thirty minute cartoons. The amount of possibilities that exist is incredible.

    But there is one this one thing beyond everything else that needs to be kept in mind when creating this types of comics. It has to offer a legit reason for the customer to fork over an additional few dollars to re-experience a comic in a format that takes significantly longer to get through than the printed physical version of the comic.

    As far as the actual motion that is added to these comics, I can't complain. While it's not fully animated, the motion comics do faithfully translate the printed page into a flowing guided narrative that in many respects is slightly superior to comiXology's guided panel reader. The thing is, if you already have the comiXology versions of the comics and you open/read the comic via the apps guided panel reader, there isn't enough of a justification to warrant purchasing a second product that does the basically the same thing that comiXology does. Especially when comiXology gives you the ability to swap between guided panel reader and full page reader.

    There's not enough of a difference to make it a reasonable purchase for anyone who's not a collector of all things IDW MLP like myself. That is probably part of the reason why there hasn't been a new release for the motion comics since August 4th, 2014. It's not profitable to make the motion comics like this.

    And this could have been solved really easily had the budget for these motion comics been just a tad higher, sound effects added, the motion of the comic made automatic instead of having to touch the screen when you're ready to move on, and of course hire the VA's from the show to actually voice the characters in these productions.

    Would it have been enough to keep the motion comics going for longer than they lasted in their current format? I don't know. But would it have set the product apart from comiXology? Absolutely. And in a digital field like this one, getting the most value for your dollar is ultimately what's going to get customers in your door.

    If you have comiXology, I can't recommend these motion comics for you. If you don't and you're curious about checking them out, feel free to do so. At the very least, the first comic is worth a look.

    Parental Controls

    This is a good idea. Building parental controls into an application that will appeal to parents of children only makes logical sense. Being able to control what your kids can buy and whether or not the app is a comic reader only just works.

    That said, there are inherent flaws with how these controls are implemented. I'll start with the most apparent. You'll notice that the controls are asking for Year of Birth instead of a Pin Number that account owner sets up. Specifically it's looking for a birth year 18+ years ago. Meaning any birth year you type in that's 1997 and later is valid for accessing the settings. Opps. Not much control there.

    That little screen there also pops up for just about every single action you take with the app. Except for reading the comics. Need to make a purchase? Punch in your birthyear. Need to go into the app's settings? Punch in brithyear. Need to restore in-app purchases? Birthyear. Download each in-app purchase individually? Birthyear for each download.

    The above wouldn't normally be a big problem with any other app, but this gets to be tedious since there is no way to turn it off like you can in other apps. Not the best design choice there.

    Overall, I find the implementation of Parental Controls to be pretty primitive. Hopefully, and if enough users send in feedback to the app's designers, we could see some better controls added. At the very least, an option needs to be given to set your own pin which is actually tied to your account.

    Final Thoughts (a.k.a. TL:DR)

    Aside from a few minor shortcomings, (and one fairly large annoyance), the app is solid. I can only see IDW increasing the quality of the experience, to take care of those minor shotcommings—with subsequent app updates.

    Verdict: Recommended (for new digital MLP Comic Readers).