(Updated) Scoop for the iPad, the product of Singapore- and Jakarta-based development house AppsFoundry*, is something magazine junkies in this region have high hopes for. By selling digitized magazines released by publishers in Indonesia and Malaysia, Scoop plans to fill in a niche yet to be claimed by Zinio, Conde Nast, and other major publishing houses that have digitized their magazines for the tablet.

When launched, it’s obvious from the iBooks-like interface that Scoop doesn’t plan to venture beyond the “don’t fix what isn’t broken” realm. The first page that greets you is The Library, which displays magazines that have been downloaded in three ways – the default bookcase format similar to the iBooks app, a list display, and a cover flow. At the top, an edit button allows you to delete magazines. Simple.

One tap on the Store button flips the Library into the online magazine store, where you’ll see the magazines available for sale laid out vertically. You can browse magazines available in three ways: by viewing according to the latest releases, most popular magazines, or by entering a search query.

The good

The best thing going for Scoop is its regional content. According to Indonesia-based site, Daily Social, Scoop supports 25 magazines from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, but at the time of review, all 24 issues available for download were Indonesian magazines.

The priority to the Indonesian market isn’t a surprise given its roots, but it’s still disappointing for those who can’t understand Indonesian. The only magazine that was written in English was September’s issue of The Wedding – not exactly the impression an unattached man like me would want to give out to nosy iPad browsers.

With the exception of industry magazines like Marketing (US$1.99), SME Indonesia (US$1.99) and HR Asia (US$4.99), the magazines listed in the store were free to download. Better yet, these free titles included the latest issues of men’s magazines FHM and Esquire, with Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and Hello magazines also in the list.

Candy readily taken from strangers, I downloaded the Indonesian versions of FHM and Esquire – hey, if I can’t understand the language, I might as well just take in the sights. The magazines were about 50mb (FHM) and 60 megabytes (Esquire) large – a decent size that doesn’t take up too much space.

Tough sell

Unfortunately for Scoop, that’s where the good news ends. Downloading the magazine took ages – on Wednesday, Nov 24, just after Scoop’s launch on the App Store, the 48mb-large FHM magazine took an agonisingly slow 40 minutes to download on a 5 Mbps line. However, the speeds got better three days later, with the 60mb-large Esquire downloading in half that time. Still, for a file size that would normally a few minutes to download, it feels like a very long time.

While downloads do resume should connections drop or the app close, Scoop doesn’t download magazines in the background. This means you’re down to two choices while waiting for your magazine to download: Either read a pre-downloaded magazine, or barring that, just stare at the status bar inching its way to completion. (You could also go outdoors and get a life, but that’s beside the point.)

Download issues aside, one can see how messy the online store would get once more issues are available for sale. As the magazines aren’t arranged according to categories or titles, finding all issues of Esquire, for example, would have to be done via the search function – not very encouraging for readers who just want their favourite titles, or for impulse magazine buyers who would like to browse according to category.

Opening the magazine revealed little else beyond a static PDF-ed magazine – barring the page-flip animation, tap-to-zoom, and the ability to fast scroll using the page index, there’s nothing added on to the digitized magazine. And the low-resolution images does become a disappointment, especially if you’ve downloaded something as, ahem, image-intensive like FHM.

But one can’t blame Scoop for the lack of functionality of the magazines – they’re just a sales channel after all. And given the mostly conservative nature of print publishers in Malaysia, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a media-rich iPad magazine coming to Scoop anytime soon.

Content is king, but it’s not everything

First off, credit to Scoop for becoming the first magazine application to cater to the south-east Asian market, but the niggling issues pointed out here hindered a pleasant browsing and reading experience.

The plain PDF-like magazine, coupled with low-resolution images, is disappointing for readers planning on switching from print to this digital tablet format. Beyond the convenience factor and the current price point of free, I can’t see myself buying too many copies via Scoop.

However, having no competition in this region does afford AppsFoundry some time to improve on Scoop’s functionalities and price points. If Scoop is to be a success, magazine prices need to be significantly lower than newsstand prices. Readers need a reason to sacrifice the long-lasting, full-picture pleasure of a print version for this digitized version, and a low price point would be one.

Scoop would do well by following Zinio, which, for example, offers readers a year’s subscription to Esquire US for US$8, compared to paying the full-priced US$4.99 iPad issue from Hearst Communications. While Zinio’s version of Esquire are little more than enhanced PDFs compared with Hearst’s media-rich copy, one wouldn’t mind sacrificing a few videos and photo outtakes for a price that’s seven-and-a-half times less.

As a magazine junkie, I can’t wait for the day when I can laze around and buy magazines from neighbouring countries from the comfort of my couch. Scoop has the potential to win over the mag junkies in this region, but they need to offer more compelling reasons.

* Update: We previously mentioned that AppsFoundry was only based in Indonesia.