When the iPad launched in April last year, news media companies were among the first to create applications for the new tablet device. We’re now a year into the iPad era and some of those news apps have dramatically changed how we consume news. But it hasn’t been the apps from traditional news media. Rather, it’s been two iPad native apps that have enhanced our news consuming user experience: Flipboard and Newsy. Some big media companies have attempted to be revolutionary, with less success. Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily launched in February with claims of being the “future of the newspaper.” However its user experience fell flat, especially in comparison to Flipboard.
This is the second post in a new RWW series looking at how the user experience of consuming media has changed with the increasing popularity of devices other than the PC. Yesterday we explored the thriving world of music on smartphones. Today we look at news apps on the iPad.
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One of the main selling points of the iPad is its ease of use as a content consumption device. It’s also a very tactile device, with its touchscreen interface. As such, the iPad inspired designers to create visually attractive, interactive apps. The iPad is nearly always a pleasure to use – unlike the sometimes burdensome PC or the pokey smartphone.
What Makes Flipboard Better Than Other News Apps?
One of the first apps to take advantage of the iPad’s unique functionality was Flipboard. A self-styled “social magazine,” Flipboard allows users to browse news and other content using a sophisticated but easy-to-use user interface. In fact earlier this month, Flipboard upgraded its UI to an even slicker, faster version.
When I think about what makes Flipboard a better user experience than the news apps of traditional media like The New York Times and Washington Post, there are two things that stand out. The first is that it’s simply a pleasing experience to flip through stories using Flipboard’s hand-swiping page turning UI. It makes it easy and fast to browse new stories. The second is the ability to customize your Flipboard, using content from all over the Web – RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr (and lately, Instagram). The ease of sharing content is a plus, too.
Newsy: Why its Content is Better than The Daily
Newsy, which recently announced a new funding round of $1.5M, is another iPad app that has impressed me over the past year for its user experience. Newsy features 2-3 minute video presentations of news and it serves these up in an appealing user interface. Using your swiping finger, you neatly flick through categories and stories until you find one to watch.
Newsy is mostly innovative for its fresh approach to content. It analyzes news stories, providing context from a variety of external news sources – including niche blogs as well as more established media companies. Each news clip is just 2-3 minutes, so it’s optimized for a device like the iPad – where attention spans aren’t as long as they are for television or even PCs.
It’s helpful to compare what Newsy is doing to what Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation attempted to do with its iPad-only news app, The Daily. It’s a little apples vs. oranges, as Newsy is focused on video while The Daily is mostly text. But from a pure content perspective, The Daily has two big issues: firstly a lack of choice for the consumer, and secondly the blandness of the content that is on offer. By comparison, Newsy goes out of its way to link to external sources (so there’s plenty of choice) and its snappy video presentations are anything but bland.
What Big Media Can Learn From Flipboard & Newsy
One possible criticism of both Flipboard and Newsy is that they appear to be catering to short attention spans. Both Flipboard and Newsy emphasize the ease of scanning content. Is that reducing our ability to focus on longer form content? Possibly, but the ‘problem’ with both apps is that they make it so darn fun to browse around!
Regardless of the drawbacks of easy scannability, both Flipboard and Newsy have a lot to teach traditional news media. News apps for the iPad must be a pleasure to use (the UI, visual design, using multimedia), be highly customizable, offer generous dollops of external content, make it easy to share content, and chunk content so its easier to digest. Many traditional media iPad apps are visually appealing and at least a little interactive – for example apps from The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN – but on the other points, big media has some catching up to do.
What do you think of the user experience of Flipboard, Newsy and other news apps on the iPad?