The Times, They Are a’iPadding

The Times iPad app navigation

The Good: The navigation is surprisingly fluid and intuitive. You can either read the the whole issue as you might the paper edition, swiping through each section in turn. Or, you can pick and choose the stories you want to read from the synopses pages that start each section.
And yes, the sections do mirror the print sections very obviously indeed. You can see this most clearly when you pop up the navigation slider at the bottom of the screen (right). This allows you to quickly flip through the various stories in each section and leap to the story.
I like the integration of slideshows and videos into the app, too. Videos are the one element you need to be online to use, after the initial download, and play quickly and crisply. The slideshows, which sit in a picture slot and which you can swipe through, are a nice touch – showing the strength of the app over the paper version. 

The Times iPad app opinion pages

But the interface element I like the most can actually be found on the opinion pages. This presents all the opinion pieces on a single page, and when you chose a different writer, their piece slides out of the list, as the currently displayed one slides back in. It’s a nice visual touch, and one that works very well. I’ve read all the opinion pieces in the last four issues – which I’ve never done in the paper version. Oh, and the leader pieces function in the same way.
The Bad: The typography’s somewhat dodgy in the app. There are several pages where the text just looks plain ugly. This tends to be in the places where they’re working too hard to replicate the print layout, and suggests that the columns are just too narrow to get the text looking nice. I’ve never seen the ugly text in the wider-column opinion area, for example. 
Also, despite some of the nice UI touches mentioned above, I really don’t feel that this app is working very hard to take advantage of the range of possibilities offered by the iPad. There’s no linking at all (even internal), beyond the contents-style pages, which seems a crying shame, and no real interactivity (the ability to make pictures bigger does not count.) If a little more of the inventiveness that was applies to the opinion pages had been applies to the rest of the app, it would be a more compelling experience. 
The Ugly: There’s no search. I could not believe this, but there’s absolutely no search ability at all in the app. I had to hunt through three issues on the device to find an article I want to show my wife. That is insane. This is something that really needs to be included as an update to the app – and its absence makes me wonder if what we’re seeing in this app isn’t text at all, but a set of images. It would certainly explain this bizarre omission. 
The Verdict: I wanted to hate this app, as it goes against my general belief in the linked web, in the concept of sharing and so on. But, to my surprise, I rather enjoyed it. I actually found myself viewing it as “paper with added features”, rather than “the web with features taken away”, and enjoyed it in those terms. The fact that the content is downloaded to the device makes it pretty ideal commute reading, sparing you dodgy WiFi or 3G connections on the major commuter routes, and even the fact that there’s less than the whole paper in there makes it pretty easy to digest. I don’t regret spending £9.99 on it at this point – but I’m not sure I’ll be buying next month’s subscription. A lot will depend on how quickly the app develops. If I see several updates in coming weeks, with new features, and fixes to the problems above, I could actually be converted. As it stands, I rather suspect that the novelty will wear off. 
  • Hi Adam
    I’d love to know your views on what impact you think the iPad will have on users’ experience of blogging – both for blog readers and for bloggers.
    What do you think?
    Best wishes,

  • jfs

    No search is somewhat surprising, but I note that the Guardian app for the iPhone only allows searching by section or author, not full text searching of the contents. And the Independent app doesn’t have searching at all.

    OTOH, neither of them are a paid subscription service.

    Out of interest, how long can you keep a copy of the paper on the iPad?

  • PressReader have a nicely executed iPad app, which can pull in any of their participating newspapers (many countries, multiple newspapers) for offline reading in “as printed” form.

    The iPad app comes with 7 included credits (they don’t make this particularly clear) and then you can download more at 59p/item, or subscribe and get a number of download credits per month.

    Some of the publications are better ‘coded’ than others though – The Herald’s table of contents was complete, the IHT was pitiful – and multi-part affairs such as the Saturday Guardian are available a part at a time (which makes it more expensive than buying the print edition) or others have parts missing (e.g. the last saturday Independent didn’t have its Magazine available.)

    But useful if you already have a subscription to their service, or (more likely) for the occasional one-off download when it’s more convenient to download than to get to a shop.

    Also quite impressed by the Zinio app. (I think I may have seen a demo of this from a friend, some time ago – he had a couple of digital subs to some IPC magazines) It comes with a selection of excerpts to get a feel for how it works. It’s still not “the web” (no ability to link/reference a specific item) but it is a promising half-way house if priced right (don’t hold your breath!)

  • Kathy,

    I plan to write plenty about that later in the week.

  • I seem to remember something saying you keep 6 days’ worth – but I can’t find a source for that. I’ll find out on Friday, I suppose.

  • Graham Drew

    Hello there,

    My name is Graham Drew and I work for News International. I’ve just been reading you blog post. It’s very interesting and I’m happy that there are aspects of the app that appeal to you. We do acknowledge that we didn’t get absolutely everything right for launch, but we’re working ’round the clock to keep making improvements the app.

    All the feedback is useful; I’ll be passing it all back and, in the meantime, do keep letting us know your thoughts. You can email or tweet @New_TheTimes



  • Pingback: On those Times paywall numbers - One Man & His Blog()