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.

My Newspaper Experiment

Newspaper
Image via Wikipedia

While I am a fan of quality journalism, I hardly ever read a newspaper.  I’ve always felt that they were just not worth dealing with and were too old fashioned in that they seemed to be delivering yesterday’s news which didn’t make sense to me.

I still stand by my opinion that news stories are worthless for the majority of people who are comfortable with using online means to read the latest headlines. There will always be a market for the traditional printed newspaper, but that audience will continue to diminish over time.

Where newspapers are still relevant is in their opinion pieces and use of columnists, sometimes celebrities to offer articles that are exclusive to that media outlet. This gives readers an incentive to opt for that particular publication. Things like exclusive offers and competitions also help. The issue here is that while opinion pieces and other content still work for printed media, online is suitable for not only these, but real time reporting of headline news as well.

A few days ago I decided to experiment by purchasing a weekday edition of the Guardian. I found a few articles that I enjoyed, but a lot of it I ended up just skimming through. I was surprised to go on the Guardian website and find that everything I just read in the newspaper I paid £1 for was there for free. The entire contents of every edition of the paper is listed on the site and made very easy to find. The iPhone App I have is also very convenient and while not ideal for the eyes at times, only costs the same as just over two weekday editions of the paper, and that’s for permanent access to the app. That seems pretty good value for ad-free viewing of all articles on the site.

It’s hard for me to understand why many people would pay a pound or more every day for something that is easier to navigate, read and free to view online. While sometimes it is nice to have a paper in your hands to read, it’s not such a nice feeling to make it worth wasting money, not to mention paper on every day.

The only real downside of reading on a backlit computer, iPod or iPad style screen is that you do have to deal with the effects on your eyes. However, as long as you don’t read for hours at a time and take breaks, you should be fine. With the coming to prominence of e-ink screens though, this problem will subside and the true digital revolution of newspapers can take place.

I’m not sure which of the subscription based model of the times.co.uk or the advertising based models of the other main news outlets is the better one, but obviously free content is preferable as long as the company can make money from it. In the end, I hope to see digital subscription or advertising based versions of newspapers become the norm and accessible via devices like the Kindle, iPad as well as in our browsers. These are already realities, but I hope as devices get more powerful, cheaper and easier on our eyes, more and more people feel compelled to give digital reading a try.

To me, a printed newspaper is a thing of the past at this point, but I appreciate that not everyone will agree with my point of view. What really counts at the end of the day is the content, and quality journalism is still just that whether it is printed on paper or viewable on a digital device.

Tweetie Will Become Twitter for iPhone

Twitter Blog: Twitter for iPhone.

I’m very excited for this. I’ve been a big fan of Tweetie 2 on iPod Touch for a while now. I was a bit reluctant to purchase it at first especially when you had to buy it again if you had the first version.

Once you install it though, it becomes clear that it is a very well thought out and designed application. While appearing very simple at first, it’s looks are deceiving and it does feature all of the same functions as an app like Tweet Deck does. They are just hidden away while you don’t need them.

The re-branding of the app is a good idea. The Facebook app has been at or near the top of the App Store popularity charts since it was released, especially in the social networking category. Twitter apps have certainly been popular, but people have been wary of unofficial apps, especially ones which aren’t free, no matter how good they are.

Having an official, branded Twitter app for free will surely shoot it right to the top of the app store download charts upon the re-release of tweetie. This will also ruin the market for other twitter apps but to be fair to everyone else, they’ve had a good run and Twitter could and really should have done something like this months ago.

Paid un-official apps are going to be a very tough sell now especially when a free app does everything better. Not only that, but free apps which use advertising to generate revenue will also be in trouble because the Twitter App will likely not use advertising either. I would assume that they’re not planning on surprising us with ads in the app. Twitter are known for not wanting to advertise in the traditional way, and are looking at different, unorthodox methods for generating profit.

You would assume that Twitter will follow facebook and make the app ad-free and focusing on advertising on the main website itself.

Whatever they choose to do, I’m very excited about this and the future of Twitter in the mobile space and overall.

iPhone OS 4.0 Thoughts

Before I get into the new features that Apple announced for OS 4 yesterday, I just want to quickly point out that while these things are cool, I probably won’t be able to use many of them at all on my iPod Touch 1st Gen. I guess now is when the hardware differences in power and function really start to render my model obsolete. It’s unfortunate because there isn’t really anything wrong with the one I have, and no real reason for me to upgrade still. I will probably stick with what I have for as long as I can but once it starts to get to a point where I can’t buy new apps because they aren’t compatible, then I’ll have to think about buying a new version.

Hopefully by then they’ll have released new ones with double storage and even faster performance to help justify the extra cost. At the end of the day though, the iPod Touch is by far the best Gadget other than a full computer that I’ve ever owned and buying another one wouldn’t really trouble me if it stays as good as it is now and keeps getting better which I’m sure it will.

With that said, here are the 7 main topics that Apple covered yesterday and my thoughts on each.

  1. Multitasking. This is clearly the biggest addition and really adds a lot of extra usability to the iPhone / iPod Touch. The UI for this is simple and seemingly elegant. I’m wondering what happens to an app when you return to the home screen. I’m assuming that all apps continue to run until you power off the device. That may not be my personal preference especially if I open and close a lot of apps, but even so, I’m sure it will be implemented in the best way possible.
  2. Folders. This may not be a huge announcement but for me personally, I can certainly get behind this. I do try to keep apps as organised as I can but folders will make it far easier. The fact that you can add folders to the dock (which now actually looks like a dock) in a similar way to stacks on the Mac is a nice addition.
  3. Improved Mail. The mail app for me has always been adequate and has done everything I would want. Maybe a “delete all spam now” button would be nice to have but aside from that I’m fairly happy with it. The new improvements though do add a bit extra to the app for people who are a bit more picky than myself. There is now a unified inbox option (which may get confusing), quick inbox switching, threaded messages like in Gmail and the ability to open attachments in 3rd party applications which could prove very useful. Highlights for me are the quick inbox switching and threaded messages.
  4. iBooks. This was quite an obvious announcement when you think about it. iBooks has just launched and is yet another way for them to make a lot of money from selling digital content. In a very similar move to when they put the App Store on iPod Touch as well as the iPhone, this is even more of an obvious choice. The iPad has only just launched and currently is the only way to read books on one of Apples devices. Even though the iPad is the best device for this function, Apple can put the iBooks app on the two other smaller devices with huge install bases and instantly increase their potential book buyers by 10s of millions of people. Not only is it potential extra revenue, but it’s also good for iPad owners as they will be able to sync their current page online so that when they are out without their iPad, they can continue their book on the less ideal device but for shorter reading lengths.
  5. Enterprise Features. There are several new additions to the enterprise element of the iPhone OS. You can now have multiple Exchange Accounts. Employers can distribute specialist company apps over the air and there is better data protection. Not exactly my thing but if it helps apple be more successful as a business device, then I’m all for that.
  6. iAd. It is weird to talk about ads as a feature of an OS, because of course we hate to be spammed with ads. However, I thought it was interesting how Steve talked about interactivity combined with emotion. It’s absolutely true. While you see your fare share of terrible, annoying ads on TV and online, sometimes you do see something that really is well made and makes you interested in that brand. Judging from the demo ads they showed, I can definitely say that I would much prefer this kind of advertising than any others. Not only does it not take you out of your app to the browser (which on a slower 1st gen touch is even worse), but the ads really can offer something to the consumer rather than annoying them and making them less interested in a product. Yes, Apple can even make ads cool.

Overall, it was a pretty good show. I should also just mention that the allowing of home screen wallpaper and the new dock really enhance the look and I hope they give us some good wallpaper options similar to the ones on Snow Leopard when this comes out.