At last, the New York Times’ iPad app is complete. Gone is the scant selection of “Editor’s Choice” articles that Steve Jobs reportedly hated, and in its place is pretty much everything that the Times’ website offers.
Just one big catch: The app is loaded with reminders that, come next year, the free ride is over. You already have to set up an account to read most sections. Soon, you’ll need a paid subscription. As a premium package, I don’t think the New York Times app passes muster.
The content’s all there, and that’s wonderful, but the layout lacks imagination. Essentially, it’s NYTimes.com without scrolling. Stories appear in a familiar thumbnail format, sometimes with images, and long articles are spread across several pages, navigated with finger swipes. Embedded video is a nice touch when available, and I like the photo and video galleries. Still, if you’re hoping for a new kind of tablet reading experience, it’s not here.
I want to see the Times’ app do more with social media. You can share links with Facebook and Twitter, but you can’t see any conversation around the stories. A better app might also try to personalize the paper for readers. Why not create a “playlist” of articles based on reading history? Or how about the ability to mark an online article for later reading on the iPad? Even the basic organization of the app is too conservative. It’s a list of sections and a list of stories, that’s all. Meanwhile, apps from NPR and BBC have streamlined the reading process by letting you swipe between entire articles, eliminating the need to navigate. They’re more fun to read than the Times’ app, and they’re going to stay free.
As the Times’ own Nick Bilton wrote in his latest book, people don’t really pay for words. “Imagine if I said I would sell you this book on Post-it notes,” he wrote in I Live in the Future & Here’s How it Works. “Would you still want to read it? Probably not. The experience would be terrible to consume.” As it stands, the Times’ iPad app is too much like a series of sticky notes, and not enough of a new take on delivering the news.
(Disclosure: I’ve written for the Times on a few occasions.)