SiliconFilter

Path 2.1 Launches With Smarter Camera, Shazam-Like Music Match & Support for Nike+

/

Path, the up-and-coming private social network, had a couple of rough days last month because it uploaded its users' address books to its servers without their explicit permission. Today, however, the company is focusing squarely on its product again with the release of version 2.1 of its iOS app. This isn't a major overhaul of the service, as the version number already indicates, but the company made some pretty significant updates to the product that its users will surely appreciate.

Path now, for example, features support for Nike+, so your runs now automatically appear in Path. For those of us who aren't runners, the new version now also features a Shazam-like Music Match feature that is powered by Gracenote and a smarter camera that you adjust focus and exposure manually.

The Nike+ integration in Path is driven by the company's new API. It's worth noting, though, that Path isn't rolling this API out widely and is taking a very deliberate approach to opening its platform up to third parties. To sync the two apps, users have to very explicitly tell Path to pull the data from the Nike app by pulling a little Nike icon onto the Path icon. This ensures that you don't share this information without giving the app the permission to do so.

The Music Match feature works just like you would expect. You just click on the microphone icon and let the app listen to the music that's playing in the background for a while. You can then easily share this song with your friends on the service (though it will only play a 30-second sample, as far as I can see).

Overall, then, this isn't a revolutionary update, but it puts Path back on track after the privacy discussions of the last few weeks. It'll be interesting to see when and how the company will open its API to other developers. There is definitely a lot of potential here.



12:24 pm


Hands-On With OnLive’s Windows 7 iPad App: Nice Tech Demo, Not That Useful Yet

/

Earlier this week, we reported that OnLive was about to launch an iPad app that lets you stream a remote, OnLive-hosted Windows 7 desktop to your tablet for free. The free app appeared in the iTunes store earlier tonight and we got a chance to put its through its paces.

Given OnLive's core competency of streaming high-end games across the Internet, it doesn't come as a surprise that streaming a relatively basic Windows 7 desktop doesn't pose much of a problem for the company. Everything runs very smoothly. While there often is some perceptible lag – especially when scrolling through documents or using multi-touch gestures to zoom in and out – it's never so bad as to become a dealbreaker.

OnLive Desktop - Windows 7 on the iPad

Word, Excel and PowerPoint – But No SkyDrive Access and No Browser

So here is what you get with your free account: access to Word, Excel and PowerPoint (the 2010 versions), as well as the ability to sync documents from your desktop. Given that OnLive's business plan depends on selling you additional storage, it doesn't come as too much of a surprise that the productivity apps are pretty locked down. You can't access date your stored in Microsoft's cloud on SkyDrive, for example. Office's "Save & Send" option has been disabled to prevent this.

The free version also doesn't include access to a browser. This will come in the paid versions versions, according to OnLive, but those won't be available for a while.

You do get 2GB of free storage on OnLive's servers, though, as well as Mac and Windows apps to sync folders from your desktop to OnLive.

More Caveats

Here are a few other caveats: the free plan, which is the only one available right now, only provides "as-available" access to your desktop. Access depends on availability, so don't use this as your only option for giving that important presentation. Paid accounts, which will launch later this year, will give you priority access, but apparently won't come with a service guarantee either.

Nice Tech Demo – Not Very Useful (Yet)

For now, then, the OnLive desktop is a nice tech demo. It's clearly the child of a transitional period where we can't do everything we would like to do on our tablets yet. Editing documents isn't one of those things, though, thanks to a growing number of native apps for the iPad and while many will surely install the app just for the sake of it, I venture to guess that the free version won't find too many regular users anytime soon. In the enterprise, there may just be a niche for this, though, but only once administrators can deploy their own apps on these remote desktops.

The OnLive app also clearly shows that Windows 7 wasn't developed with tablets in mind. It works alright, but feels like a chore compared to iOS or Android.

Enhanced by Zemanta


8:31 pm


Five Apps and Web Services that Deserved More Attention in 2011

/

For every hyped app or web service (think Foursquare, Quora etc.), there are at least a dozen of competitors out there that are often better, but never quite get the attention they deserve. At the end of every year, I round up some of my favorite apps and services that mostly flew under the radar of the tech press during the last twelve months, but that deserved a lot more attention. Last year, I featured my6sense (still alive and kicking), Pearltrees (growing steadily, just launched an iPad app), Producteev (also doing well this year) and EchoEcho (which got a nice investment led by Google Ventures earlier this year).

This list is obviously quite subjective, so feel free to chime in with your personal favorites in the comments.

Trover

I’ve never been a fan of check-in services like Foursquare, but I’m a big believer in location-based apps nevertheless. The reason I like Trover  (available for Android and iOS) is that it strips out all the unnecessary gamification crud and just plain focuses on letting you share and discover cool stuff around you. Instead of virtual badges, you simply send a friendly “thank you” to the person who first shared that cool place you found thanks to the app. While it focuses on sharing photos, there are no filters and nothing to distract you from what you really wanted to use the app for in the first place.

In my review earlier this year, I called it “the best location-based app you’re not using (yet).” Thankfully, more people have discovered the app since, but overall, it mostly flew under the radar this year.

Spool

With Apple adding reading lists to iOS and a lot of attention on Instapaper and Read It Later (though that service also doesn’t get the attention it deserves), time-shifted reading hit it big this year. Spool is the latest entry into this market and it’s quietly building a very competitive product which doesn’t just offer support for text, but also videos.

Another feature I really like about the app is automatic detection of multi-page articles. It doesn’t always work 100%, but often saves you a few clicks on sites like the New York Times, for example. There are also Chrome and Firefox extensions for Spool, which provide augmented links on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Techmeme. Given that the service is still new, though, it isn't integrated into any third-party apps yet, which is a bit of a problem if you want to switch from a well-supported service like Instapaper.

You can find my full review here.

Wunderlist

wunderlist_logo_150Everybody who owns a smartphone has probably downloaded a few task management apps at one point or another. My personal favorite is Wunderlist from Berlin-based development shop 6Wunderkinder. The company got an investment from Skype-founder Niklas Zennstrom in November, so it definitely popped up on some peoples’ radar this year, but while it got lots of traction, it never quite got the hype it deserved. The services’ apps and web services are beautifully designed and focus on simplicity over features.

This isn’t a tool for the hardcore Getting Things Done crowd (this isn’t OmniFocus, after all), but it’s among the best task management tools out there for those of us who just want to keep lists of things. The fact that it’s available virtually anywhere (Windows, Mac, Linux, Blackberry, iOS, Android and on the web), also gives it an edge over some of its competitors.

With Wunderkit, the company also plans to expand beyond its basic service next year, so keep an eye on the company’s blog.

(If you are looking for a more fully-featured service that includes support for small teams, by the way, take a look at Producteev, which was on this list last year and which added some nice new features over the last few months.)

Rhapsody

rhapsody_logo_200With all the talk about Spotify, MOG and Rdio, it’s easy to forget the granddaddy of all online music services: Rhapsody. When the service launched a full 10 years ago, it was among the first online music services to offer on-demand music streaming for a flat fee. Today, it can boast of being the largest on-demand music subscription service on the Internet, but it gets very little attention from the tech press (maybe because its legacy as a part of Real Networks is still a major turnoff for those of us who have been around the net for long enough). With 11 million songs and apps for every major mobile operating system (including support for offline caching), it’s worth taking note of and worth a try if you are looking for a subscription alternative to iTunes.

Microsoft’s Office Web Apps and Windows Live Web Services

skydrive_logo_official_200It’s obviously not cool to like a Microsoft product (except for the Xbox and Kinect, I guess), but even though the tech press loves Google Apps, Gmail and (almost) anything else Google does, Microsoft’s web apps don’t get the attention they deserve outside of the Microsoft blogs.

All of Microsoft’s online products took a major step forward in 2011, though. The latest SkyDrive update, for example, makes Microsoft’s online storage service for more competitive with startups like DropBox. The Office Web Apps suite (and, by extension, the paid Office 365 solution for small businesses) offers a far better online editing experience and document fidelity than Google Docs (and include support for OneNote, the underrated star of the MS Office suite). Hotmail has massively improved thanks to adding features like Active Views

All of these services are worth another look, especially now that Microsoft is rumored to launch an iOS version of its productivity apps, too.



6:09 pm


One Company’s Way to 5-Star App Store Reviews: Paying Users in Virtual Currency

/

I was browsing Apple’s App Store yesterday, looking for some interesting new games to play during a very long flight I have coming up later this week. One of the apps that stood out as I was browsing the role-playing games section was GAMEVIL’s Destinia (iTunes link). It’s the #1 role-playing game in the U.S. store, has almost 5,000 reviews and a 5-star rating. There are not too many 5-star games out there for $0.99, so I took the plunge. Sadly, the game is a major disappointment. The graphics aren’t optimized for the iPhone 4’s display, the controls are bad, the music repetitive and it’s just plain boring as a game. So how did it get a 5-star rating?

Being puzzled by that, I went back to the App Store to take a look at the game’s reviews. The first thing I noticed was that most of them are badly written and often just one or two words long. Walking back through a few pages of these reviews, I noticed that quite a few reviewers were saying something about “100 cash” – not exactly something you expect to read in a game review. All of that made me a bit suspicious and indeed, it looks like there really is reason to be suspicious about these 5-star reviews.

According to some of the negative reviews I found, Gamevil is sending in-app currency to users who review the app and promises “free updates” to those who leave a 5-star rating. Most of Gamevil’s games use in-app purchasing to monetize them, so free virtual currency is a strong incentive to leave a good review.

gamevil_review_2gamevil_ratings_review

100 Cash and Free Updates: Who Can Say No To That?

Intrigued, I went back and actually played the horrid game a bit longer. Lo and behold, it turns out that just after you finish the first mission, the app indeed offers you “100 cash” for leaving your rating and “free updates” in return for a 5-star review. I’m not really sure what “free updates” refers to here, given that regular updates are pretty much always free in the App Store.image

Shady Business

All of this looks quite shady. I’m not sure it’s against Apple’s App Store policies, but it sure undermines the users’ trust when it comes to user reviews in the App Store – and not just with regard to Gamevil’s apps, but the apps of all the other developers in the store, too.

I didn’t play any of the other Gamevil games yet, but I did notice that some had reviews that were very similar to those that celebrated their free “100 cash” in Destinia.



7:08 pm


Amazon Launches HTML5-Based Kindle Cloud Reader to Sidestep Apple’s Rules

/

Amazon launched Cloud Reader today, a browser-based eReading application that allows it to work around Apple’s rules for in-app purchases and subscriptions.

Apple has set strict rules for how vendors can use its platform to enable in-app sales and subscriptions. To work around these rules, Amazon and many other e-book vendors recently removed links to their websites from their native iOS apps, allowing them to skirt some of Apple’s rules and avoid paying extra fees to Apple. This, however, also degrades the user experience significantly. Thanks to Apple’s rules, though, we are now also seeing even more development efforts around HTML5-based web apps for offline reading of books, newspapers and magazines. As these apps run in the browsers, they don’t have to follow Apple’s rules and don’t have to go through the App Store approval process.

The Financial Times, for example, decided not to give Apple 30% of the money it makes from in-app subscriptions and launched an HTML5 app instead. Today, Amazon joined the fray by launching Cloud Reader, a web-based e-book reader that can also be used offline thanks to HTML5’s built-in caching mechanism. Cloud Reader works in Safari and Chrome, but not in Firefox. It looks especially good on the iPad, but doesn’t work on the iPhone (yet).

cloud_reader_large

HTML5 vs. Native Apps

Cloud Reader is, without doubt, one of the finest examples of how a well-designed HTML5 app can easily compete with a native app. The fact that the focus here is on text, of course, helps, as an e-reader doesn’t need fancy animations to work well. The app does, however, feature some nice animations here and there and, most importantly, offers deep integration with Amazon’s Kindle store, something that is still missing from the company’s native apps.

Among the few things that don’t work in the web app are swipe gestures (to skip pages, you can only click on the edge of the screen), but otherwise, every feature you would expect from a Kindle app is here. Once you add a bookmark to the app to your iPad homescreen, you wouldn’t even know that you’re not using a native app if it wasn’t for the slower response time when you skip pages.

Right Now, Mostly Developed for iPad – Coming to Other Devices Soon

In the long run, Amazon will likely bring Cloud Reader to other platforms as well. Right now, it seems specifically targeted at iPad users, but the beauty of a web app is that it could allow developers to bring the same service to virtually every web-capable device.

Enhanced by Zemanta


3:28 pm


The Google+ iPhone App Has Arrived – But It’s Not Very Good

/

Google+ offers a pretty nice mobile web experience, but it’s relatively slow and limited when compared to the full web client on the desktop. While Android users have had access to a native Google+ app since launch – including access to Google’s Huddle group messaging feature – iPhone users had to wait for Apple to approve the app. That approval has finally come and the native iPhone app is now available in the App Store, though it is definitely not as good as it could have been.

Disappointing

There are no major differences between the Android app and the iPhone app. Indeed, the limitations of the native mobile app on both platforms are similar to those of the web app. Posting links and other attachments (as well as giving a +1 to a comment) is still not possible, for example. Neither is resharing posts. The overall design of the app is – in Google’s best tradition – lackluster. The Facebook app-style launcher with five icons doesn’t give you a lot of information and just makes the screen look empty.

Where the app shines, however, is in allowing you to post images directly from your phone (camera or library) and in bringing Huddle – the Google+ mobile group messaging service – to the iPhone. Getting native notifications of new comments, of course, is also quite a bonus, but you don’t get granular control over which notifications you receive.

Overall, then, the app isn’t great, but does give you easier and more complete access to Google+ than the mobile web client. Maybe Google should have just waited for feedback from its Android users and then launched an improved iOS version. None of the missing features would be hard to integrate, though, so I expect we will see an improved version pretty soon.

To download the app, just head over to the App Store and get started (if you have the developer version of iOS 5 installed already, though, don’t bother, as the app just crashes).

Enhanced by Zemanta


4:08 pm


Taiwanese Law Forces Apple to Institute 7-Day App Return Policy

/

One thing that has always bothered me about Apple’s app stores is the fact that all sales are final. While Apple has sometimes made exceptions – as in the case of its own Final Cut X – you can’t test an app for a few hours and then return it if it doesn’t live up to your expectations. Now, however, it looks like Apple could be slowly changing this policy. As MacRumors notes, the company’s Taiwanese Mac App Store, App Store, and iBookstore now allow for returns within a seven-day window after a user has purchased an app or book.

“YOU MAY CANCEL YOUR PURCHASE WITHIN SEVEN (7) DAYS FROM THE DATE OF DELIVERY AND ITUNES WILL REIMBURSE YOU FOR THE AMOUNT PAID, PROVIDED YOU INFORM ITUNES THAT YOU HAVE DELETED ALL COPIES OF THE PRODUCT. UPON CANCELLATION YOU WILL NO LONGER BE LICENSED TO USE THE PRODUCT. THIS RIGHT CANNOT BE WAIVED.”

Apple’s policy change isn’t just due to the company’s drive to help out users, though, but is necessitated by the fact that Taiwan’s consumer protection law requires that any product bought over the Internet to feature a “trial period” of at least 7 days. Google ran into similar issues with its Android store in Taiwan and was fined because of its violation of Taiwanese law. Indeed, Google and Taiwan are still at odds over this issue.

Is this Policy Coming to the U.S., Too? Probably Not

It’s unlikely that we’ll see a similar policy in the U.S., where Google offers a 15-minute return window and Apple only handles these things on a case-by-case basis. Still, I know that I’ve often shied away from making a purchase in Apple’s Mac App Store (where prices are generally higher than the $0.99 we’ve become accustomed to in the iOS app store) because I couldn’t try an app before buying it. It would be smart of Apple to allow for at least a 1-day return window everywhere – and this would likely benefit developers as well – but somehow I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Enhanced by Zemanta


5:17 pm


Custom Shortcuts: The Most Useful Unannounced iOS 5 Feature

/

Apple’s forthcoming iOS 5 release includes one nifty new feature that the company hasn’t talked about, but that will likely change the way you use your phone to write anything from text messages to emails: custom keyboard shortcuts. Tools like Typinator, TextExpander (App Store Link) on the Mac and PhraseExpress on Windows have made this concept popular among those who have to write a lot on the desktop. iOS’s closed architecture makes it hard for developer to create system-wide tools like this, however. While TextExpander offers an iPhone app, for example, that tool only works in the 100 apps that support its service. Apple’s own shortcuts work system-wide. (more…)



10:33 pm


iOS 5 Beta: So Widely Available Already, Users Leave Negative iTunes Reviews When Apps Crash

/

The first developer-only beta version of iOS 5 has only been out for about a week, but it’s already clear that no other pre-release version of iOS has ever seen a wider release beyond the developer community than this one. It’s hard to pinpoint why this is the case, but there are clearly enough users who either paid $99 per year to become part of Apple’s developer program or who paid a rogue activation service a few dollars to get access to the beta that way. As iOS developer Malcom Barclay notes, this wide release has some interesting consequences for developers: some users are now leaving negative iTunes reviews for apps that don’t work on iOS 5 yet.

Ios 5 crashed please fix

Will Apple Crack Down on Fake Developer Accounts and Activation Resellers?

Few companies keep their betas under tighter wraps than Apple and the $99 developer fee has generally kept regular users from just installing a beta out of curiosity. Now, however, the rogue beta activation market continues to grow and even a $99 fee isn’t much of a deterrent anymore for those who really want to get the latest and greatest from Apple a few weeks early. Sadly, it seems some of these users don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘beta’ anymore.

It will be interesting to see if Apple will try to crack down on rogue installs when it’s ready to test the next major version of iOS. There’s little the company can do about those who want to pay $99, but we may see higher fees for developers who want to activate additional UDIDs (currently, every developer account comes with 100 additional activations for beta tests – a loophole that resellers then exploit).

Enhanced by Zemanta


10:51 pm



Trover: The Best Location-Based Discovery App You’re Not Using (Yet)

/

We all got our fair share of laughs out of the failed launch of the over-hyped photo-sharing/social networking service Color. While the idea behind the service was smart, the execution was abysmally bad. Trover, which quietly launched earlier this month, takes some of Color’s most basic ideas and puts them into an easy to use free iOS app (iTunes link). The app is based around the idea that you want to share photos of cool places around you with the rest of the world. There is also a location-based social networking aspect to the app, but you could easily ignore this aspect of the service without losing it’s basic functionality.

Location-based social networking based on photo sharing sounds like a complete buzzword overload, but oddly enough, it actually works out very well in Trover. In some ways, it’s the kind of app you would expect Flickr to make if Flickr still had an ounce of innovation left in it.

trover_screenshots

How it Works

The idea behind Trover is very simple: it allows you to publicly share geotagged images with anybody else on the service. That is, admittedly, nothing too original, but it’s very well implemented. The main view of the app shows you all of the images around you, organized by distance. By default, you will see all the images around you, but you can also filter this down to seeing just the images of the people in your social network on Trover (you sign in with your Facebook account, but the app won’t automatically add your Facebook friends to your network).

Share Your Discoveries – Whatever They May Be

Because of the app’s open approach, you can virtually share anything you want. The people around me have shared anything from photos of restaurant menus and food to pictures of local sights, interesting stores and weird stuff they found while walking down the street (no dearth of that here in Portland). Of course, this also means that some people just take pictures of the food they made at home, but so far, I’ve seen surprisingly little of this.

Trover’s Currency: A Simple ‘Thank You’

Unlike other apps like Foursquare and Gowalla, where the focus is more on amassing virtual badges and collecting digital flotsam, the currency on Trover is a simple ‘thank you.’ To thank others, you don’t have to be part of their social network. This makes it easy to thank other and it’s surprisingly rewarding to be thanked by others.

For the most part, the service has been flying under the radar. Hopefully this will change soon. You can download the app here.



10:29 am


Tweetbot: All Hail the New King of Mobile Twitter Clients

/

Twitter itself may not be a big fan of new Twitter clients, but that didn’t stop the developers at Tapbots to launch a new iPhone client tonight. It’s a good thing they weren’t dissuaded by Twitter’s anti-developer stance because Tapbots’ Tweetbot (iTunes link) is easily the best mobile Twitter client out there today. It’s even better than Twitter’s own iPhone app and more than worth the $1.99 Tapbots charges for it.

All the Features You Want

Now, with all the Twitter clients for the iPhone out there today, what makes Tweetbot better? It does, of course, feature all the standard functionality you would expect: support for multiple accounts, lists, old-style and new-style retweets, built-in browser, search and virtually every other feature you would expect.

But it also knows some other nifty tricks. By default, for example, a triple-click on a tweet start a reply. A double-click brings up additional context (maps for tweets with geolocation data, for example). A single click open up a menu underneath the tweet for replying, retweeting and adding a tweet to your favorites. That’s not all, though. Swipe to the right and you get to see related tweets. Swipe to the left and you get to see the whole conversation. This sounds a bit complicated, but is actually far more intuitive than it sounds and becomes second nature within minutes.

It’s clear that the Tapbots developers have paid a lot of attention to detail and how people actually use their Twitter clients on a mobile phone. Tapbots, for example, has decided to treat lists with the respect they deserve and allows you, as Shawn Blanc also notes, to set them as your main timeline.

The design is minimalist but highly functional. You get lots of options (support for Instapaper and Read It later, 9 URL shorteners and 6 image hosts, for example), yet it works perfectly fine out of the box.

I should note that Tweetbot does not feature push notifications. Boxcar, however, already supports Tweetbot, so you won’t have to miss this feature either.

Verdict

Twitter may not like this, but Tweetbot is currently, in my opinion, the best mobile Twitter client out there. Unless you really don’t have $1.99 to spare, I recommend you give it a try (iTunes link).



11:56 pm


Echoecho 2.0 Makes Meeting Up With Your Friends as Easy as Five Clicks

/

Echoecho is one of the most useful location-based apps on the market today. When you hear the word “location-based app,” chances are you are thinking about services like Foursquare and Gowalla. While these can be fun, their utility is rather limited (unless you really feel the need to collect virtual badges). Echoecho, on the other hand, was built from the ground up to solve a simple problem: finding out where your friends are.

While most of today’s location-based services were designed around the idea of the check-in, Echoecho takes a very different approach and allows to ask your friends where they are.

imageThe service offers free native apps for the iPhone (iTunes link), as well as Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Blackberry devices. The latest update is currently only available for iOS and Android, though. The app falls back to SMS if your friends don’t have the app installed, so you can even use it if your friends haven’t installed it yet.

Echoecho doesn’t force you to join yet another social network. Instead, it simply uses your existing contacts on your phone.

Where are you?

Here is the problem Echoecho solves: Say you want to meet up with a friend in the city, but you don’t know exactly where he is. Today, you would probably send a few SMS messages back and forth to slowly triangulate where you both are and to decide what a convenient place to meet up would be. With Echoecho, you simply send a ping, get an answer, propose a meeting location and head there – all within a minute or two and with just a few clicks.

Where should we meet?

imageThe latest versions of the service’s iPhone and Android apps just arrived in their respective app stores. This new version takes the original concept of finding out where your friends are one step further. The app now also allows you to find, suggest and confirm meeting places with just a few clicks. While ensuring your privacy is at the heart of the service, the new version also allows you enable automatic replies for your best friends, spouses or children, so that the app will automatically tell them where you are.

If you want to discuss the meeting place in more depth, Echoecho currently still falls back to using text messages, but one of the next updates will move these discussions to a text chat in the app itself.

One minor limitation of the app is that it currently only revolves around one-on-one meetings. There is currently no way to easily use the app to poll a group of people about their locations and organize meetings.

Version 2.0 of the app now also sports a slick redesigned interface. In my first review, I praised the app for its simplicity and thankfully this has not changed, even as the team added more features.

To fully understand the power of this concept, you really have to see the app in action. Echoecho co-founder Nick Bicanic demoed the update at the Launch conference last month:



9:30 am


The Daily Gets an Update: It's Still a Disaster, But At Least it Loads

/

The Daily, News Corp.’s much hyped and buggy iPad-only newspaper just got a much-needed update. Even though the launch of The Daily was delayed by months, the first version of the app quickly turned out to be extremely buggy (I couldn’t even start it for the last few days) and quite a disaster when it came to usability. Today’s update does little to fix any of the usability problems, but at least the app loads again.

Interestingly, the release notes also point out that current users should delete the app before upgrading. Chances are that few of The Daily’s readers will actually see this note. I am not sure what the repercussions of not deleting the app are (I had actually just uninstalled the app just before the update appeared), but it’s probably best to follow these instructions. Of course, even if you never get the app to run again, you can always use this web-based index to read the main stories.

But at Least it Loads…

There is no point in repeating all the issues with the design and content we and others have found with the app. Suffice to say, today’s update does nothing to alleviate these concerns. On the positive side, though, as the release notes on iTunes note, today’s update brings “improved performance and stability.” Indeed, the app does feel somewhat more responsive – though it still feels very sluggish – and hasn’t crashed yet.

On the negative side, though, the compression artifacts that made the carousel view anything but attractive are even more pronounced now (maybe in an effort to improve its speed without having to actually change any code). Of course, delivering a new edition still takes far too long and the updates the news team sometimes pushes during the day still aren’t highlighted in any shape or form.

So while it’s good to see that the tech team at The Daily quickly fixed some of the problems with the app, today’s update does little to address any of the real concerns most of us had with the original paper. It’s still light on hard news stories and trapped in old-school newspaper thinking. Unless the team fixes the glaring usability issues and actually pushes out real news stories (instead of horoscopes and stories about how guys like cats), it’s hard to see how News Corp. can recoup its investment here once the ad-supported free version expires and readers will be forced to pay a subscription fee.



2:21 pm


The Daily: Old News in a Flawed Package

/

News Corp. today launched The Daily, the first new national newspaper in the U.S. that is specifically designed for the iPad. At the launch even in New York today, News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch argued that The Daily will give his company the ability to innovate in the tablet age and introduce readers to a “fresh and robust new voice.” For the first two weeks, the Daily will be available for free, courtesy of Verizon. After that, a subscription will cost $0.99 per week or $40 per year (there is no monthly subscription option). You can now download the app from Apple’s App Store.

Given that, according to Apple, there are already over 9,000 news apps out there and news apps have been downloaded over 2 million times, can the Daily really make a splash in this market? To find out, we took a closer look at the app.

Interesting But Flawed

After spending some time with the app, it seems as if the designers tried to pack the best parts of the traditional newspaper and online world into this product. Sadly, the mix between the two is anything but satisfying and errs on the side of  old-school newspaper thinking.

The app features the serendipity of reading a newspaper (mostly because it doesn’t have a decent table of contents that would make browsing to a specific article easy), glossy design, high-quality editing and great photography. The app can pull in tweets for articles when warrant it, there are outside links to blogs and other traditional papers online, you can leave audio and text comments on articles and you can share links to stories on Twitter and Facebook.

As for the journalism and writing, it’s probably not fair to judge the app by its first edition, but there seems to be a lack of hard news and a strong focus on lifestyle stories (“The Man Snoot”? Really?). The fact that The Daily features a horoscope section is a clear example of its legacy sensibility.

Also, the news part of The Daily isn’t keeping up with recent developments. The story about Egypt, for example, is based on old information and the paper currently makes no mention of the violent clashes that happened in Cairo today.

Somehow, though, none of this feels very satisfying. The app is riddled with little usability issues (see below for details) and even though it is far prettier than most news apps and looks more like a magazine, the app is held back by Murdoch’s insistence to bring the old newspaper paradigm to the iPad.

Hands-On With the App

The first thing that stands out while looking at the app is the production value the team has put into the design and images. The overall design, with a focus on photos and clean typography, makes for a pleasant reading experience that is actually more intuitive than that of the early iPad magazines from Wired and Popular Mechanics.

The central view of the paper – the one you see when you first start the app – is a carousel that shows thumbnails of all the papers’ stories. From every story, you can also navigate to the paper’s different sections (News, Gossip, Opinion, Arts & Life, Apps & Games, Sports). Oddly, the tech section – which includes a profile of Quora in today’s edition – is called “Apps & Games.” You can’t directly browse to a tech news section in the app.

You can share stories on all the major social networks. After you share a link, your friends will be able to see a copy of the article on the Web, but won’t be able to see any other content from The Daily.

Odd Design Problems

Even though the overall design of the app looks nice, this first version features so many annoying little design issues that using the app isn’t quite as much fun as I expected.

One thing that immediately caught my attention was that there doesn’t seem to be a way to just get an overview of all the articles in the app. Even though the carousel is very pretty and you can bring up a list of thumbnails by clicking at the top of the screen, you can’t just press a button somewhere and see a full table of contents.

Another thing that annoys me about the app is that its functionality relies too much on switching between portrait and landscape modes on the iPad. Generally, you will see photos related to a story when you are in landscape mode and the text while you are in portrait mode. I tend to lock the iPad’s rotation, however, as it’s too easy to inadvertently switch back and forth between the two while I’m reading on the couch or in bed. So switching between the two just gets annoying after a while but is essential if you want to get the most out of your The Daily subscription.

Also, the preview images on the carousel are over-compressed and hence very grainy. Also, the 360 degree pictures that the editors highlighted during today’s launch are of surprisingly low quality.

One feature I dearly miss while using the app is a browser-like “back” button. In the first edition, for example, there is a link to a graph with stats about Egypt at the end of the lead article. This link takes you to the middle of the paper – but then you can’t easily get back to the position you jumped off from.

Another annoyance (though I guess I’m nitpicking now): when you share a story on Twitter, the keyboard blocks the “post” button and you can’t actually send your tweet until you dismiss the keyboard.

The web versions of the articles are also rather unsatisfying. Given that News Corp. wants you to subscribe to the tablet app, that makes sense, but a bit more attention to the design there would probably entice more readers to actually download the app.

Worth Subscribing To?

Overall, then, this is an interesting experiment. Will I keep my subscription after the first two weeks? Currently, I don’t think so. The New York Times app (which will soon move to a paid model as well) isn’t as pretty as The Daily, but it is far more usable and gets me to the news I want to read faster while still keeping that sense of news discovery and serendipity that makes browsing a physical newspaper so satisfying.



11:00 am