iLike iComic

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Chris Adamson
Nov. 24, 2003 10:23 AM

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I've been thinking a lot about so-called "thick clients" recently, particularly after seeing Watson creator Dan Wood's session at the O'Reilly Mac OS X conference. I even did a weblog about thick clients and how well-suited Java is for creating them.

One other thing I've been doing a lot is reading web comics. To me, Monday, Wednesday and Friday start off with Penny Arcade, Tuesdays and Thursdays are about MegaTokyo. And every day requires a look at Sinfest, which for my money is better than anything in the three pages of comics in the Atlanta newspaper.

So imagine my delight to discover that someone has decided to write a thick client in Cocoa, just for reading web comics. Not only that, it's really really good.

If you're interested, stop reading here and go get iComic. For everyone else, here's a little tour...

OK, first off, you had me at the "cute manga girl" icon:

Seriously though, there's a lot of cleverness to this app. The interface is remarkably simple yet powerful:

The chosen comic is displayed under a set of tabs which indicate your current subscriptions - Dilbert and MegaTokyo are built in, while others are available as "plug-ins" (presumably HTML scrapers) at iComic's website. The forward and back buttons go to previous or subsequent strips for the chosen comic. A calendar button pops out a calendar window that can also be used to navigate through the comic, which is useful for more irregularly-published strips. Other features include entering and searching comments for a strip, and quick access for links associated with a strip... absolutely essential for "Penny Arcade", which sometimes isn't funny until you read the creators' blog (if you didn't know about AT&T patenting an anti-spam-blocking technology, the recent PA about the "AT&T RapeBot" would be inexplicably vicious).

Surely this is a nicer end-user experience than expecting users to find and browse to a half-dozen different web pages, remember or bookmark their addresses, wait for unrelated content to load and be rendered, etc. The only obvious problem is that this steals impressions from sites that depend on advertising.

As I said in my weblog, my one fear about a rush to thick clients is that it could lead to more cases of Mac users getting shut out of content if the content providers write thick clients only for Windows. Java is an obvious help here - Java's networking, 2D graphics, and Swing API's would be quite capable of powering an application like iComic, and Java Web Start would be an effective way to distribute, install, and update the client for end-users on Mac, Linux, Windows and future J2SE-capable devices. Unfortunately, instead of writing useful and cool apps, us Java people tend to write IDE's for ourselves (or worse yet... and please strangle the next person who proposes to write one of these... the XML-based visual Java GUI editor... blech). No surprise that the cool stuff would instead come from the Mac world, I guess. Or in the case of iComic author Steve Saxon, a Win32-to-Cocoa switcher. How freakin' awesome is that?

Chris Adamson is an author, editor, and developer specializing in iPhone and Mac.