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Feb 7, 2011

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Amid much fanfare last week Rupert Murdoch, flanked by some of the top executives from Apple, launched News Ltd’s newest masthead, an iPad only offering called The Daily. Although it’s not yet available in the Australian iTunes store I thought it’d be worth taking the time to check out News Ltd’s vision of the future of online news.

One of the reasons that The Daily has garnered so much attention is because it is the first newspaper launched exclusively for the iPad, as opposed to what we’ve seen from many other papers and websites that have created iPad apps as an extension to their existing web presence. The content in The Daily is not being shared with any other News Ltd newspapers or sites and after its initial two week release period it will be available by subscription only, it’s a trailblazer in the online space and there’s no doubt that should it succeed it will provide the template for other legacy media outfits who are looking for a way to make their online divisions more profitable.

The first thing that you notice about The Daily is how long it takes for it to load up the new edition for the day. After activating the app from your home screen it presents you with an attractive splash screen and then for around a minute you see nothing but this.

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It’s painfully slow. While The Daily is being ‘delivered’ to your iPad you don’t get a glimpse of new content, or anything else for that matter and your first instinct is to simply quit the app and read something else. John Gruber from Daring Fireball described the problem brilliantly

Imagine a paper newspaper that was wrapped in an envelope, and the envelope was so difficult to open that it took over a minute before you could see the front page of the issue. Who would buy that newspaper? No one, that’s who.

I don’t think that this can be overemphasised, the iPad experience is supposed to be, for want of a better word, snappy. The Daily fails the ‘snappy’ test, which for many users will be enough for them not to bother trying it for a second time.

When The Daily does finish loading new content you’re presented with a fairly novel interface that is referred to as the ‘carousel’, that allows you to select the section or page that you want.

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It’s a nice, page at a glance, format that is easy to browse, but allows you to quickly select the sections by heading. Unfortunately, rather than the smooth flowing effect that they no doubt intended to have, it can be jerky at times which adds to the feeling that the app isn’t as polished as it should be. This is also the impression that you get when at random intervals you get a loading icon instead of the next page, if it took so long to load in the first place, why is it taking a time out between pages?

One big problem with the navigation comes about with stories that have extra content, like photo galleries, where the app shows you different parts of the story depending on the orientation that you’re holding the iPad, text in portrait mode, slideshow in landscape mode. This can be confusing because stories that don’t have hidden content simply reorientate the page when you move the iPad, which is normal behaviour.

Another annoyance with The Daily is that the content can’t be selected to copy and paste. Even if you use the sharing links to get access to the web version of The Daily, the pages are displayed as images rather than text, meaning that you can’t select anything.

My final gripe with the app is the typography, it’s inexplicably inconsistent across the application, some of the font choices are hard to read and it just doesn’t look as good as you think it should.

All of these problems with The Daily would probably be forgivable if it had a first mover advantage, but the reality is that it doesn’t. Although this is the first iPad only news product it’s not even remotely the first opportunity to use the iPad as a news reader. The Daily is competing in a marketplace where the Wall St Journal, New York Times, Slate, Huffington Post and pretty much any other newspaper or website have already got an app in the store, and that’s before you even begin to explore the RSS readers like Reeder or Flipboard which allow you to curate your own news selections, grabbing the best of all of your favourite sites in a single app.

While there’s nothing wrong with the content in The Daily, it’s certainly not compelling enough to get you to abandon your favourite columnists or features from other papers or sites, and that’s its biggest problem. While The Daily might make a great addition to your news routine, it’s not good enough to replace it entirely. No one is going to become an exclusive Daily reader, and so as you switch between apps things like the loading time and the quirks of the app become more annoying to the point where you wonder whether to bother with it. The Daily isn’t just competing with other news apps either, it’s competing with every single website and blog on the internet, none of which you’d be visiting if they took over a minute to show you the home page.

All of that said, I think that there is a segment of the market that will be happy to pay for The Daily provided that News approach it as a work in progress rather than a finished product. If some of its technical shortcomings can be overcome and if the roster of journalists and commentators continues to improve, I think that some people will enjoy the pre-rolled Daily experience as opposed to those of us who skim a hundred different feeds and chase links from twitter all day. Alternatively, if this 1.0 release is left without changes or updates it will probably end up on the shelf labelled ‘Rupert Murdoch doesn’t get the internet’ next to MySpace.

What The Daily won’t do however, no matter how successful it might be, is provide a model for the legacy publishers to move away from their printing presses, and that is still the most difficult problem facing the newspaper industry.

20 comments

20 thoughts on “The Daily

  1. FunkyJ

    Looks like the Daily is aimed at killing more than just newspapers…

    Apples subscription service will most likely kill some of the smaller subscription services, and force Amazon and Netflix off the ipad / iphone

    http://gizmodo.com/#!5761383/apples-new-subscription-model-is-evil

  2. Angra

    And welcome to the Ah Bra – no more sagging or itching. And she’s my friend! So it must be great.

  3. Angra

    And there’s lots of nice opera on Youtube. And a bit of Beethoven. So thats alright then.

  4. Angra

    Some examples of what to expect –

    – Rob Oakeshott has a beard. This is apparently deeply psychologically significant.

    – Queensland has had lots of rain – and there are graphs to prove it. So Bob Brown is wrong. (Yes I don’t know why either)

    – A woman lost a dog in Melbourne. Please help! Think of the humanity! (well dog-manity)

    – The Age is a far-left Marxist conspiracy and has a new boss, who must be a Marxist.

    – China has an airplane! Shit!

    – Christina Aguilera sang something silly at a rounders game in the US – apparently.

    – There’s another boat going somewhere which we should be shit-scared of.

    – The Australian Financial Review is an anti-business Marxist conspiracy, just like The Age.

    Welcome to the Boltpad.

  5. Smithee

    Exactly the same crap, but on a new platform.

    Rupert loves to use the word “nimble” to his senior goons, but that’s exactly what they can never deliver because of the massive career-politics bureaucracy that is News Corp.

    Innovation is not compatible with the News Corp / News Ltd environment. The people they hire, the management style, and the paths of advancement mean that real thinkers and innovators are seen as threats by the management game-players. The News Corp “young guns” spend the vast bulk of their time jockeying for advancement and shooting down any “bright young things” that threaten to sidestep the usual ladders.

    We won’t see any real innovation from News Corp.

  6. teecha

    @8 & @10,

    oh, how I have been waiting for the opportunity…

    I don’t have an iPhone but I have got two earphones.

    Boom boom!

  7. Phil M

    *Performs a power yawn*

  8. Mr Marcab

    The amateur anthropologist in me is always intrigued by new and exciting ways in which people can be induced to pay for fail.

  9. Marek Bage

    …some of the font choices are hard to read…

    Old Fart!!

    Cheers.

  10. SHV

    @Bellistner = ha,ha! Haven’t got one either.

    If you haven’t seen this yet, highly recommended:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcjLEwZqcQI

  11. confessions

    I, too am iAnything-less.

  12. DeanL

    I’ve been trying The Age app for iPad, taking up the 1-month free subs. I quite like it. It provides a newspaper layout with a double-tap zoom but also provides each story in a separate text window by tapping on the headline. A menu provides a goto function for each section.

    All the sections and magazines are available and, whilst the text recog. and rendering seems to go awry every now and then, I don’t have too many complaints.

    The download is slow by 3g but bearable, although I’ve only tried it in a couple of places and would probably not work where coverage is marginal or weak. Quick at home with ADSL.

    Haven’t yet decided whether to renew and pay for it or just yet…

  13. Bellistner

    This must leave just me and Tycho as the “only living organisms in the universe without” an iDevice.

  14. Wednesdays Child

    “…and the envelope was so difficult to open that it took over a minute before you could see the front page…”

    Ha – maybe it’s supposed to emulate the experience of trying to remove that gladwrap-like stuff that newsagents wrap newspapers in for home delivery.

  15. Dave Gaukroger

    Angra, the content was novel, but it didn’t offer enough to become a regular part of my reading. At one level I think that we need something like The Daily to work so that the belief that no one will pay for online content can die in a corner somewhere.

  16. Matthew of Canberra

    The good folks at the guardian (disclaimer: they’re not murdoch) had a chat about this in the last media talk podcast.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/audio/2011/feb/03/media-talk-podcast-the-daily

    I’m not all that interested in the app itself, and I guess in a way I don’t even really care. But it is interesting to hear some fairly intelligent suggestions as to why News might have seriously stuffed it up.

    Apparently none of the news is actually “live”. It’s a daily download. That seems to be completely missing the point of a networked device. IMHO, I agree with them about that. If users find they get the same information, but more up-to-date, by launching safari, then this thing’s a turkey. Also, by doing a big fanfare launch straight out of the gate (horribly combined metaphors), they’ve all but guarateed that most of the potential user experience is going to be had during the early teething troubles. If they’d been quiet about it, maybe had a free intro, they could have had user feedback and tweaked it without building expectations first. These pundits’ belief is that if that user experience is rubbish (slow downloads, bugs, patchy coverage) then they’ll abandon it.

    But one interesting observation is that he’s aiming at a “magazine” audience rather than up-to-the-minute news. A 30 million (pound) initial investment, and apparently a 1.5 million pound monthly budget. It’ll be interesting to see if it works.

    Personally, I’d still rather buy the economist.

  17. confessions

    [and if the roster of journalists and commentators continues to improve,]

    Isn’t this the real problem though? Current journos and commentators are appallingly ill-informed and prone to groupthink which is why people like me turn to blogs, twitter and youtube for news and current affairs. When we start getting more informed commentary from the msm I’ll go back, but until then they can keep it.

  18. Angra

    Dave – you’ve got to be joking. Did you actually read this? I would rather bugger myself with a cactus. As the commentators on “Top Gear” seem to have done. I’m sure this has made the ‘news’.

  19. SHV

    Rupert loves backing a dud.

    The Australian has been losing millions of dollars a year for about 40 years.

    It’s just one of Rupert’s playthings, this is probably just another.

  20. monkeywrench

    At what point do the traditional fans of News Ltd. decide they must have an iPad to take advantage of this? At what point do younger iPad owners decide The Daily is so good they must subscribe?

https://www.crikey.com.au/2011/02/07/the-daily/ == https://www.crikey.com.au/free-trial/==https://www.crikey.com.au/subscribe/

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