Remember The Daily? The over-hyped and much-maligned iPad-only newspaper backed by media titan Rupert Murdoch? The first version of the paper’s iPad app was, to put it mildly, a disaster. There were not just major usability issues, but the app also crashed regularly and just felt half-baked.
Today, The Daily finally launched a new version of its app (iTunes link). Why it took the organization this long to fix the app isn’t quite clear. What I am sure about, though, is that if they had just launched with this version of the app instead of the original one, the majority of the original backlash could have been avoided.
A Real Table of Contents and Fewer Crashes
Indeed, this new app is actually quite good. Gone is the focus on the horrid carousel that was supposed to take the place of a more traditional table of contents. Instead, The Daily now actually features a regular table of contents. The carousel is still there and still features the same 1990s-style pixelated article previews, but you never actually have to see it.
The app also now opens to the front cover and remembers where you left off after you close the app (the original app wasn’t made for multitasking).
There are a number of other improvements, too. Commenting is now easier and the app feels stable and generally faster.
Is it Enough?
The question, of course, is if this will be enough to get people to check The Daily out again. The content, as far as I can see, hasn’t changed and still shows the general old-school mainstream newspaper mentality (including a Sudoku and horoscope section).
There is definitely a lot of potential in the idea of a tablet-based newspaper and thanks to interactive graphs, plenty of large photographs and other multimedia content, The Daily is at least trying to be at the cutting edge.
Whether people will pay $0.99 per week to give it another try, though, remains to be seen.
News Corp. today launchedThe 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.
So far, the iPad has not done much to save the newspaper industry from itself, but according to the latest reports, News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch is not giving up and plans to launch his much-rumored iPad-only paper The Dailyon January 19.
It remains to be seen if an old-style newspaper on the iPad will be able to make a significant impact on News Corp.’s bottom line. While details about the publication remain sparse, it currently seems as if the plan is to update the paper once per day – just like that newspaper you unsubscribed from years ago.
Dead on Arrival?
This slow update cycle is, of course, one of the main reasons why regular papers have lost so many readers over the last few years and I just can’t imagine that readers will flock to The Daily and subscribe (even at the low – rumored – price of $1 per week). There are plenty of news alternatives on the iPad right now, including excellent apps from the traditional newspapers like NYTimes (now that it doesn’t crash anymore), aggregators like the Huffington Post and web-only publications like Slate. Murdoch’s old-fashioned approach is the antithesis of what readers expect from a modern publication today.
Because of this, chances are that The Daily won’t be able to do much stand out from the competition (except, maybe, through in-depth features and smart investigative reporting). One area where it could stand out is in its design. So far, newspaper apps on the iPad and other tablets reproduce the traditional newspaper experience nicely, but we haven’t seen a lot of innovation on this front yet. In December, MediaMemo’s Peter Kafka reported that The Daily will feature “some kind of 3-D effect that lots of people are very excited about,” so there is some hope that the app will at least feature an innovative design.
What do You Think?
What do you think? Will The Daily be a massive success? Or will you stay away from it and read a paper that’s updated throughout the day?
Tips of the hat to MediaMemo’s Peter Kafka, by the way, who was the first to pinpoint the week of January 17 as The Daily’s launch window.