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Hands on with Marvel's new subscription comics app

Jason Snell | March 12, 2013
With Saturday's release of the new Marvel Unlimited iOS app (an Android app is forthcoming), Marvel's subscription comic service has a new name and a home on mobile devices at last. Jason Snell goes hands-on.

Marvel Comics was an innovator when it launched its Digital Comics Unlimited subscription service in 2007. But sometimes being an innovator can burn: The company built that initiative on top of Adobe Flash just as the iPhone arrived on the scene and made Flash irrelevant to a new generation of mobile devices.

With Saturday's release of the new Marvel Unlimited iOS app (an Android app is forthcoming), Marvel's subscription service has a new name and a home on mobile devices at last.

Marvel Senior Vice President and General Manager of Digital, Peter Phillips, admits that his team has been anxious to get the service off of Flash for some time. "We wish we could've done it a little bit faster," Phillips said. "This app offers a much better user experience and provides access to a lot more digital comics."

Marvel, like most comics publishers, has been selling a la carte issues via its own app and Comixology's Comics app. But the new Marvel Unlimited app gives fans of the publisher of such characters as Spider-Man, X-Men, and Avengers access to a Netflix-style library of more than 13,000 comics. Like Netflix, subscribers to Marvel's service (it's $10 per month or $60 for a year) can read as many comics as they want--but also like Netflix, the offerings don't include the latest issues. Instead, Marvel Unlimited offers a catalog of classic issues (dating back as far as the 1960s) as well as issues from the recent past, roughly six months to a year ago. For example, in early March Marvel posted the first issue of AvX, which was originally published in April 2012.

Native app, plus HTML

In late 2012 Marvel launched a beta version of the Unlimited service that used HTML instead of Flash, and I took it for a spin on my iPad. The new Marvel Unlimited app uses that HTML reader as its reading engine, so the experience is quite similar.

At the time, I lamented the clunky Web interface required to browse issues in order to choose what to read next. The new app addresses this, putting a speedy, native app interface on top of that database of thousands of back issues. It's much easier to pop around through the catalog, browsing by series, event, or even character. (If you've got a favorite minor Marvel character, that last option is a treat--you never know where Captain Universe or Nova will pop up next.)

However, Marvel does still have some database clean-up to do: I found several examples of issues appearing out of order or with the wrong publication date, which makes it much harder to read an entire storyline in order. There were also quite a few examples of missing cover art.

 

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