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.
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.
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.