The New Guardian App and Newspaper Update

Logo of the British newspaper The Guardian
Image via Wikipedia

Fairly recently I wrote about newspapers, their place in media moving forwards and how these companies are adapting to the digital world. It’s still a very interesting topic that’s constantly evolving as news companies look to bring their content to phones and perhaps more importantly, tablets such as the iPad. Tablet devices are perfect for newspapers as their size allows them to provide the most realistic newspaper-like reading experience on an electronic device, aside from the kindle or other eBook readers. These devices don’t allow colour for the most part. Because they don’t include media capabilities, such as video, and because newspapers aren’t usually read for long periods at a time, they aren’t as well suited to the medium of news the way things are now.

The Guardian are my favourite newspaper. I like their journalistic style and the paper just has this appeal that resonates with me for some reason. As I wrote in my last post in this subject, I have been using their iPhone app for a while now on my iPod Touch and it’s been a great product for that time. The newspaper has just put out a new version, only this one requires a subscription fee to use it.

While I’m not against subscription based business models for content that is high quality enough to warrant such a price, it does bother me that the Guardian have taken this u-turn on policy without really acknowledging their early adopting customers who I feel have been left out in the cold to an extent.

Yes, it was never going to make them much money by charging one-time fee of £2.39 for access to the app. However, when it really comes down to it, you’re not gaining that much extra with the app that you can’t get on the regaular guardian site, or even the mobile site for that matter. They have walked the line between usefulness and novelty and just come out on the right side for them. It really depends how much the seamless feel, ease of use, customization and mobile multimedia options matter to you.

As far as comparing this app to the previous, non-subscription versions goes, honestly, they’re much the same on the surface. This is what I expected and it does feel quite bad to think that you’ve payed considerably more money for essentially nothing new that you’re interested in. Goal alerts I can get from Eurosport’s app for free, horizontal view isn’t really that necessary, and the rest of the updates are too small and insignificant to warrant a fairly steep price increase.

Once I got past the familiar exterior though, I noticed that there were some more subtle improvements in layout and performance. Along with much faster updating, there is now one tab for multimedia, with video, photo galleries and audio all contained within. The photo Galleries have ditched the fancy looking but slow to navigate carousel default view, which is I think a good idea. The galleries are where I spend the vast majority of my time in the app, so I’m glad they’re considerably more usable in this version.

Beyond these improvements though, it’s really exactly the same app, and I get that the company has to make money, but they should have released the original app with this price scheme if they didn’t want to have any pricing backlash from customers. It was simply unavoidable when a change such as this is made.

I’m being kind to the dev team here, because there’s really not a lot else to shout about. I even noticed a bug where if you modify the home screen, and then leave the settings, you have to restart the app before anything will load in that section. However, this is a small problem and it doesn’t detract from an overall very good app. If you love the Guardian, and especially if you’re used to paying a lot of money by subscribing to the newspaper itself, then this will be almost an impulse purchase for you. If you’re like me and hardly ever bought a paper in your life, then it depends if you are willing to pay for content you don’t have to pay for, and whether or not you want to financially support this company. Personally, I want to support them, especially as the subscription is a drop in the ocean compared to buying the physical paper for the same length of time.

In summary, this small feature update is essentially a glorified excuse to charge more money. With that said, if you want a great news app that offers a bit more flavour than the BBC, I think it’s still worth downloading even at this inflated price. Just make sure you understand what you’re getting first, to avoid being disappointed later.

Whether the pricing compares well to other newspaper’s app offerings is hard to say due to the fact that other papers bundle in app access with paper subscriptions, but from what I’ve heard, they seem to be priced competitively. We’ll see in the future how things go and whether a standard price emerges from fierce competition.

iPhoto ’11

IPhoto
Image via Wikipedia

I wasn’t really planning to pick up iPhoto 11, as I felt that this year’s iLife wasn’t a big enough step forward for the suite of applications to be worth the full price tag for all of them. However, because of the App Store and their A la carte method of selling apps individually, I was able to purchase just iPhoto on it’s own for a very good price.

At first I didn’t think the changes would be that huge. From what I had seen during the Apple event where it was first announced, I didn’t get the sense that this was a major overhaul. While it’s true that it isn’t a major change, they have made a lot of small improvements to make the experience much better. Small things like layout changes, better full screen modes, better social sharing options and more.

In their information released, Apple only really mentioned the Facebook improvements, which are useful, but for someone who uses Flickr constantly for uploading and organising my photos, there are some small but very welcome changes to that integration as well. You can now opt to upload a photo directly to your photostream rather than a set, for times when you just want to upload a lone photo or two on their own. The upload interface is also much simplified and easier to understand. You simply click share and a pop-up menu appears which allows you to share your current selection, whether it be one picture, an album or more with the aforementioned services as well as by email, mobile me and also allows you to order prints.

From there, you are presented with a visual selection of your sets or albums, with the ability to post to your wall / photostream or create a new album or set directly from the menu. It used to be confusing and messy in the previous version to see your uploaded photos. They appeared as a list of sets in the main navigation menu. Now, you simply have a list of your activated services, and when you click on these, your sets open up in the main screen. You can even download photos from the services directly into your iPhoto library. This is great if you’ve had  a computer failure or upgraded, especially if you back up your entire library in actual size to Flickr for example.

Another new feature in iLife 11 which is a trend in Mac OS Lion applications is the addition of a full-screen mode. Some people will complain that it’s un-intuitive and confusing how they’ve added this functionality due to the interface being inconsistent between modes. However, you only really have to adjust to the main functions in the sidebar moving to the botton of the screen and losing a couple of options from there, including access to the trash. It’s hardly a big problem but these few losses do mean you can’t spend your time using iPhoto in full screen mode exclusively.

Overall, the tweaks to the interface, the addition of more technical information in the photo info panel and the improved sharing options definitely make this a worthy £9 purchase, especially if like me, you use iPhoto constantly to organise, upload and share.

One final point is that I think it’s important to show Apple you support their App Store pricing by buying this app if you will benefit from it. Far too often in downloadable software and especially games, you don’t get the correct discount by buying digitally and Apple are doing the right thing here, so people need to vote with their wallets to encourage Apple and others that this is the correct pricing strategy for downloadable desktop apps.

Mac App Store Launches

App Store
Image via Wikipedia

The Mac App Store is a concept that I’m fully behind. Digital distribution is the way forward for practically everything. It just makes sense from a price and convenience standpoint. Having all apps in one place for an entire operating system isn’t a new concept for desktop computing as far as games are concerned, with services like Steam leading that evolution. For regular computing apps however, it’s a different story entirely. You have been able to buy apps online for a long time, but only directly from the developer.

The App Store model simplifies everything, creates an arena where pricing will become competitive and therefore cheaper for consumers, and because of the prominence of the App Store within Mac OS, sales will likely go up for software due to ease of discovery.

App updates will be handled within the App Store itself, and I’m assuming that you’ll get a number notification of available updates on the dock icon in a similar way to how it’s handled on the iDevices. This just takes Apple’s philosophy of giving users powerful tools, but in a way that anyone can understand and make full use of.

The final big advantage of an App Store for desktop computers is that you can buy individual elements of software packages for a reduced price if you don’t want to buy the entire suite. For example, you can buy the individual components of iLife 11 for £8.99 each. Since the only one I have any real interest in upgrading from my previous version of iLife is iPhoto, it would be great for me to get those improvements for a much cheaper price than the boxed version which is over 4 times the price.

Aperture, Apple’s professional aimed software which is a step up from iPhoto with advanced functions, is also available on the store for a dramatically reduced price from the boxed version. As someone who is starting to get into more serious amateur photography, this may prove useful in the near future. Providing my 2006 MacBook can run the application, especially when dealing with RAW files. I may have to upgrade sometime soon if it can’t. Those new MacBook Air models look pretty well priced and great technology for me to take advantage of.

In general, the Mac App store will surely be a great success for Apple. Probably not on the massive scale of the App Store for mobile devices, but a success nonetheless and a great step forward for desktop computing.

Apple Event: Apple TV

Apple TV at the Macworld 2007
The outgoing Apple TV. Image via Wikipedia

Apple TV, or iTV based on many rumours, was the big disappointment of the show for me. I suppose a lot of that was due to getting my hopes up by reading about all of the possibilities which ended up not coming true. Namely the addition of an app store. The second being that lack of an app store, but I’ll get to that later.

One thing that did come true was the $99 price tag. I knew Apple weren’t going to go with the exchange rate and make it around £60 or £70, but I expected something around £80 as a fair price. That didn’t happen, and they just went ahead and announced it for £99, which really is just wrong and a joke in my opinion. Yes, I can understand that it’s a different economy, with different taxes. Still, to charge the same amount, when one currency is worth close to double the other is just ridiculous.

Despite the fact that it is ridiculous that they charged as if we share the same currency, £100 isn’t actually that bad all things considered. It’s soured in several ways though. The first being that it doesn’t come bundled with an HDMI cable. Surely that’s what 99% of people will be using to connect this to their TVs. Why not inclue one?

As far as the device itself, it’s a redesigned and cheaper Apple TV. It uses an A4 Chip just like the other iDevices do now, which lends credibility to rumours that this could be updated to run apps. It’s capable of outputting up to 720p but no 1080p, which is disappointing but not necessarily a huge loss as most content available isn’t available in full HD and I don’t see that changing soon.

In the end, Apple decided to strive for two main objectives with this new Apple TV. It had to be affordable and easier to use than previous versions. Maybe an App Store will come and they just wanted to keep things simple for the time being to give the market a chance to absorb the basics rather than overloading them and rushing into too much.

With that said, the iPod Touch seems to be doing just fine in sales and that has an App Store and can be fairly complex at times to understand, so that argument may not hold up well.

The actual features of this new Apple TV remain very similar to the previous one, except now there is no hard drive and the emphasis is on streaming and the rental model, which personally I much prefer as long as the prices are fair. The internet based content offerings remain similar with the usual youtube and podcast watching. You can also now stream Netflix instant watch movies if you have an account with them. This is a nice touch, especially as they’re competing with Apple in rentals. Obviously, if they had done a LOVEFiLM app for the UK then I’d be a lot more interested, especially if it did 720p streaming, But that didn’t happen. Hopefully more movie streaming options will be forthcoming.

Apple have also redesigned the remote for Apple TV. It’s now longer and looks more like a traditional remote, but is still very different at the same time. It still has very few buttons and no keypad. This isn’t a huge loss though since you can use your iPhone or iPod Touch to input text which should make searching for things much faster. It’s also made of aluminium now which is an interesting choice and will definitely make it more likely to stand out among all the standard bland remotes we all have on our coffee tables.

Overall, I think the new Apple TV is a step in the right direction, while not being particularly world changing. It’s a safe update by Apple in much the same way as the iPod Shuffle was this year. The lower price and new streaming rental model should ignite sales for the time being.

The product line has huge potential and I’m sure apps will be coming at some point, whether in this particular model through updates, or in future ones. Definitely watch out for big things in this space in the next couple of years with the likes of Google TV coming soon to provide some hopefully stiff competition. In the meantime at least, it’s definitely lacking something special to get me excited about it enough to want one, but I hope that changes sometime soon.