Madcap Studios has completed a major update of its Digital Comics app, bringing iPad-specific compatibility to the free comic viewer app. We’ve had our eye on Digital Comics since it was released earlier this year for the iPhone and iPod touch and have been anxiously awaiting a universal version to better enjoy it on the iPad’s larger screen and after getting an exclusive look at it before its release, we’ve found it to be worth the wait.
The unique feature of Digital Comics is its automated panel view that will “play” comics for you by automatically panning and zooming through a comic so it’s a movie-like experience. This feature works particularly well on the iPhone version since its smaller screen can make getting through a comic a bit cumbersome with the amount of manual zooming and panning required. With the current standard size of a comic book page of 6.625 inches by 10. 25 inches in the U.S., it’s hard to have an authentic comic book reading experience on a device like the iPhone or iPod touch and the iPad brings it a little closer to what it’s like to read a paper comic book.
Of course, a good reading mechanism is nothing without content and Digital Comics currently offers a library of 41 books from Top Cow Productions, Antarctic Press, and independent artist Joe Phillips, with more added regularly. [UPDATE: Madcap Studios has let us know that more books have been added for today’s release and more are on the way later today as well.] There are a handful of free books so you can use the app fully as intended without spending any money at all. If you get hooked on any of the full comic books available for free (mostly #1 issues of series to entice you to download the next installments), more issues can be purchased for $.99 each and can be downloaded over Wi-Fi or 3G.
Outside of the actual comic book reader function, Digital Comics offers three tabs to manage your comics and adjust how the app works: Get Comics, My Comics, and Settings. In the Get Comics section, you can browse the virtual comic store with multiple sorting options to see new titles, only free or paid books, and more. You can navigate using the coverflow view in the top half or scroll through the panes at the bottom. The App Store’s in-app purchase method is used to buy comics with charges going straight to your iTunes account.
In the My Comics section, you can easily go through your comic library to view details for each book and jump right to reading one. Comics will open at the last page read so you don’t need to worry about paging through to find out where you left off.
Tapping on the Settings tab brings up a menu where you can control the reading and transition speeds and other navigation and viewing elements.
Getting back to the panel view reading mechanism that put this app on our radar to begin with, this feature works superbly on the iPad, moving smoothly from section to section. We found the default reading and transition speeds to be a little slow for our liking, but this is easily remedied in the Settings. If you like to use the panel mode at your own pace, you can elect to use the playback control buttons that appear with a tap at the bottom of the screen to pause and move forward and backward as you’d like. Or, as previously mentioned, you can navigate manually using the iPad’s standard touch gestures of swiping and pinching to get around in a comic book.
A written description of how the panel mode works doesn’t quite do it justice and Madcap Studios has posted a video to more clearly demonstrate how it works (note that this video demo was made when the app was named Art Book prior to the iPad’s release):
Digital Comics has developed a fantastic comic book reading experience for the iPad and iPhone but we can see one area where hardcore comic book readers will be let down: content. While Madcap Studios works very hard to add new content regularly (Eric Reedy, Madcap’s president, states they’re aiming to add 5 to 10 every week), many of the most popular comic book series are not available in the Digital Comics store (nor can your own comic book files be side-loaded for viewing on an iPad or iPhone), so you won’t be able to enjoy Superman, Iron Man, Captain America, The Avengers, or any other classic series within Digital Comics. To get these on your iPad or iPhone, you’ll need to download the Marvel Comics or DC Comics apps, which don’t offer a reading experience as good as Digital Comics and you’ll pay twice as much to purchase issues in those apps. This is one area where we wish comic book publishers would be more open to allow other apps to sell their content though if the ebook market is any indicator, this isn’t likely to happen soon.
Version 1.5 of Digital Comics will be released later today. Digital Comics is a free app so you can get it now to try out and look for the update, which will also be free.