Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is The Daily the future of newspaper publishing?

To great fanfare, News Corp released their new twice-daily paper, The Daily, a few weeks ago. It is digital only, and exclusive to the iPad. Updates have been frequent for such a large undertaking, which is both a good sign and a bad one. Good, because they are listening to their users (at least a bit) and fixing things that need it. Bad, because it shows just how far from a true iPad experience it was at the beginning.

With the iPad users I have talked with (which is quite high, given my Apple-oriented friends and co-workers), the reaction has been mixed, but cautiously positive. Within that positive hope, however, is always the growl of irritation at various interface flaws. Having to wait for new issues to download (almost) every time the app starts and not having any control over sound are two large items that come up frequently. Not being able to filter things like Sports and Gossip from the main download is also huge. Why should I have to wait and download stuff I'm not going to read? I toss out those sections in papers I buy on the newsstand, but that's one-size-fits-most, not like digital publishing, where things can and should be custom tailored to each reader's needs. The app disables auto-sleep, which can be nice, but what if I'd rather it not do that? I want to make it work my way, not the publisher's way.

The first few updates introduced a lot of crashing, which has gotten better, but is still not gone. I had actually deleted The Daily from my iPad last week, but reading about the extended trial, I decided to give it another go. I've never in my life subscribed to a newspaper, so I may not be a good demographic, but I've not heard anyone rave about the app either.

The things that make the iPad unique are being able to customize your experience: pinch and zoom photos and web pages, resize columns for ease of reading, copy and paste to an email for instant sharing, saving content to a place for off-line reading, turning off sounds or music that is not wanted without affecting the rest of my apps and not having to turn the device to a certain orientation for specific content. To the extent you frustrate these activities, you alienate and irritate your intended readers.

I have a suggestion for the developers of The Daily: find a group of people who have been using iPhones for a long time (2-3 years), and who were early adopters of the iPad. Show them the user interface, watch their reactions as they interact with your app, and correct where necessary. My suspicion is that few, if any, of the designers working on The Daily ever used iOS before they decided to write an iPad app. There is a rich history and understanding of how things work that dates back to mid-2007, and ignorance of this underlying developer knowledge will usually result in thinking that you can force your page-oriented views onto the platform. It doesn't ring true to the user experience of most apps, and this is the reason most newspaper apps out there cannot get paid subscribers. Users of iOS want things on our terms, not yours. We'll read your content, but we want it in a form that we prefer, not in static layouts with a little bit of flash thrown in.

from dusty archives - Largo Lodge

[ed. This piece was written some time ago, but I found it recently while moving hard drives on a computer. I thought some folks may find it ...