Oprah’s iPad Sketchbook

By Steve Smith

The iPad ideas coming out of the magazine world are getting ever more curious. The February 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine directs readers to the iPad App Store where they can find a free sketching app for the iPad that lets readers enter a creativity challenge. Powered by partner AutoDesk and its SketchBook drawing engine, SketchBook O App for iPad is a digital drawing program. Users employ the touch interface to make complex illustrations and export them either to one’s personal library or to O for the contest.

The app uses a creative prompt from writer and filmmaker Miranda July. She asks that people “draw the hair” of someone in their life that evoked strong feelings. The tools are sophisticated: from multiple pen and brush tips to a feature that can create digital image layers. When the user is done, a tool in the SketchBook O gallery lets her email the image as an entry directly to the magazine. “We worked with Autodesk to develop SketchBook O and launched the Creativity Challenge to encourage our readers to tap into their inner artists,” says Michelle Shih, director of digital editions for O. “The results are sure to be unique and evocative.”

And the execution is imaginative and unique. By partnering with a major software provider, O is wrapping its editorial idea around a ready-made app solution that would be too costly for most magazines to build themselves. AutoDesk, of course, gets a large contingent of new users to test its basic tool set and perhaps upgrade to a better version later. The reader gets to engage with a brand in a unique way and feel even more invested in the magazine. The contest is open to entries from Jan. 12 to March 11. At the end of the contest period, users will have the option to upgrade the O version of SketchBook to Autodesk’s SketchBook Pro Express for iPad.

While novel and new, the integration of the Oprah brand is relatively scant. The editorial material behind the project is only briefly mentioned, and there seems to be a missed opportunity for communicating the Creative challenge idea. 

Nevertheless, Just as Oprah has driven consumer interest in books and gadgets, she may well become an endorsement engine for software.