All The News? New York Times versus Wall Street Journal iPad Apps – Review

By Jonathan Spira on 2 July 2011
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With the advent of portable devices such as the Kindle eBook reader and Apple iPad, how we get our newspaper has started to change dramatically.

In designing their first generation iPad interfaces, both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal started with a tabula rasa. The Wall Street Journal chose to adopt iPad conventions in terms of the use of gestures.  As a result, the experience the reader gets doesn’t simply replicate the look and feel of the print paper, but the interface is actually an improvement.  The Times, on the other hand, is a different story.

A Journal reader on the iPad can get the day’s paper or the most up-to-date news and swipe from article to article.  The look and feel resembles the print edition but the images are far superior.  Thanks to its intelligent use of gestures and scrolling, I find reading the Journal on the iPad more enjoyable and far more informative than reading the paper version. Readers can swipe between articles and sections (left and right for articles, up and down for sections) and can also close an article and return to the both the front page of the “paper” or of each section by pinching the screen. Finally, I can also switch to the European or Asian edition with two taps, a feat that is not obviously possible with the paper version.

On the other hand, I find that reading New York Times via its iPad app is an exercise in frustration thanks to a poor user interface that leaves me constantly wishing I had the actual paper in front of me.

What the Times considers to be the main page is what the editors have determined to be “Top News” stories. Today, there were 11. It’s also not possible to swipe from section to section (e.g. from Business Day to Technology). Switching sections requires clicking on the menu bar and then making a selection.

The Times app’s design was shaped by the newspaper’s view that the app serves a different purpose than either the printed paper or the Web site. “In designing the iPad app, we focused on creating a continuous, updated news service which is meant to be different from the Web site (which can also be accessed from the iPad),” a spokesman from the Times said. “Instead of replicating the newspaper experience, the iPad app was tailored to focus on a new media experience, centered on offering up-to-minute, timely news and features (including news alerts).”

While this sounds good in theory, in practice it is eminently impractical because readers don’t want to hop between the app and the Web site if they don’t have to.

Click here to continue to Page 2 – What Doesn’t Work in the Apps – But Should

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