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24 January 2012 - 5:13pm | posted by | 7 comments

Scotsman iPad app fails to offer improvements over a simple RSS reader

Scotsman iPad app fails to offer improvements over a simple RSS readerScotsman iPad app fails to offer improvements over a simple RSS reader

Jonathan Joyce, technical director for Storm ID, discusses the iPad app unveiled today by the Scotsman.

Following the release of the iPhone edition of the Scotsman in August 2011, the newspaper have just released an iPad edition. Having used the iPhone version several times since it was released last summer, I was interested to review the features of the iPad version to see whether they had managed to address some of the failings in that app.

The iPad has proven to be a medium in which news can be delivered in a very compelling format. The opportunities to deliver a more luxurious reading experience, combined with the subscription model Apple has provided, has been heralded as the saviour of the newspaper, or at least a natural progression that print publishers can understand which takes them from the print format and print commercial model into a digital medium.

The developers have put some thought into how to use the iPad to deliver their content. The first page of the ‘digital section’ manages to pack in a good deal of themed content into a browsable form which offers visually engaging images balanced with some written content.

Unfortunately the format has been used as a one-size-fits-all for all the Scotsman news articles and there is very little evidence that the content or presentation has been curated to add value to the user’s reading experience. Article titles and description text have been truncated, and images are just smaller versions of those used within the article. For a publication which prides itself on delivering high standard content, it is a shame to see this not being presented suitably within the app. On reading an article, it appears that the iPad version fails to offer many improvements over a simple RSS reader and attempts to introduce useful UI devices, like swiping between screens, fall flat because the content sprawls over too many pages.

There is a huge opportunity to produce a more sophisticated Scotsman app. At present, I feel that the current app is only beginning to scratch the surface of the possibilities of what could be achieved, many of which are in full evidence in many of the competitors’ tablet apps. I would recommend moving away from replicating a paper copy of the newspaper and some of the tired presentational devices used throughout. The very fact that there is a ‘digital’ and ‘paper’ section shows the underlying problems in the current approach.

With the iPad app not providing any remarkable improvements to the iPhone app, I’m keen to see further development work taking place so an innovative digital experience can be achieved.

Comments

25 Jan 2012 - 10:34
AlexGubbay's picture
3
comments

Hi Jonathan and thanks for the review. I'm pleased you managed to get to grips with the app on launch day.

While I don't disagree with some of what you say here, as Head of Digital Content for Johnston Press, you probably won't be surprised to hear that I'd counter other points you make.

Specifically, the RSS reader claim, which feels somewhat unfair.

While there's obviously more we can and will do with the UI in due course, we think this first version does a good job of giving two ways into content from The Scotsman, both of which seek to capitalise on the strengths of the device.

If you want to literally read the paper (and many still do), then the app allows you to do that - in a straightforward way.

If you want to browse in a more digital manner, you can do that instead - something you can't do on the pre-existing iPhone app. And indeed watch video in full screen, scroll through image galleries (as you rightly highlight) and navigate quickly across content channels. We also promote key content in the portrait carousel area.

While it's obviously still very early days, the user feedback has so far been quite positive, suggesting what the app offers in this first version is actually proving a worthwhile experience for those who download it.

That said, of course we want to enhance and improve the app over time. In many ways, this is just the start and to echo your point, we will definitely be aiming to seize opportunities to make it even more compelling in the weeks and months ahead.

Hope that reassures, and thanks again for your comments.

ALEX GUBBAY (Head of Digital Content, Johnston Press)

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25 Jan 2012 - 10:49
craig_mcgill's picture
24
comments

Jonathan, I think you're being way too hard on the Scotsman app - and I was hardly glowing in my references of it in my review over at bit.ly/scotsman-ipad - as I think the team have done quite a decent job.

There's always a couple of things you need to consider when looking at an app like this:

1) What was the budget? While it was substantial, I'll bet it wasn't huge. And more to the point, the app is only the start, it needs to be updated daily with fresh content and to add more than the pictures used in the print version (i.e. - video or more pics or even audio) is a staff resource that, quite frankly, I'm willing to bet The Scotsman doesn't have. Many reporters are still reluctant (for some good reasons and for some bad reasons) to do more than a new story in text. Hell, most PR companies in Scotland do little more than provide text still.

2) Consider the audience. Younger audiences have very little brand loyalty, so The Scotsman is (probably) aiming more towards the 30somethings and upwards. So to offer something that's quite traditional in appearance gives the reader the reassurance of what they are getting. It's toe-dipping instead of throwing them in at the deep end.

(As an aside, I would also point out that the traditional newspaper page is one of the most successful designs ever when it comes to imparting information. There's a reason so many newspapers look similar. Within seconds you can have a rough idea of about 15 stories, some of which are linked and some of which are not - can't do that on a webpage with just one tale)

3) You talk of consider The Scotsman's competitors. In a global marketplace, yes, the likes of the NY Times and so on are doing more - with completely different staffing levels and budgets. In Scotland - the core market for The Scotsman's ongoing success - there are no other apps. Hell, it's a struggle to even get digital papers of many of their Scottish counterparts. Most don't even have digital teams.

Just my two pence. YMMV.

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25 Jan 2012 - 11:26
Jonathan Joyce's picture
3
comments

Hi Craig,

1) Yes, there will be reasons for it not being right - but as a user I'm afraid excuses don't wash - it is either worth a download or not. Should a user be concerned whether the budget for the build was right? And it is NOT right. Yes it will be improved over time but you have to be careful when applying MVP and Ship It! approaches in the app world - unlike the web it takes time to deply an update and early reviews are very public.

2) Forget age - if you have an iPad you immediately consume content in new and better ways. The traditional newspaper page has been honed over many years in the print medium - it does NOT hold up on the iPad in the same way as it does not hold up on other digital channels. Would you have us turning pages, folding corners and filling out crosswords with a virtual pen on websites? Nope.

3) Utter nonsense I'm afraid. The Scotsman has the resources to do this right and I believe this can be done in Scotland as well as anywhere else. Not only that, Johnston Press have over 300 titles many of which could leverage the app if they consider that up front. Learn from the best out there and improve on it; set a vision for content production and consumption; reorganise resources and get on with it. In the end it will cost less and be better. No excuses.

Thanks for your two pence - will we get another 797 pence to subscribe?! And where is the subscribe button? ;)

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25 Jan 2012 - 11:45
Jonathan Joyce's picture
3
comments

Alex

I did not intend for the comments about RSS to become the headline - all a little too sensational for my liking too ;)

I can't say for sure where you are going with the app but it feels to me like you could do worse than build out what you have started on the digital section homepage which I think is the most successful part of the app.

If you get the rest of the digital presentation right, focus on the subscription flow and work on the social integration, and then get some support on the content curation, I think you could really have a strong offering here.

No doubt the analytics will demonstrate the value of the other sections but my feeling is that they are a distraction which undermines the app and to a certain extent the brand.

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25 Jan 2012 - 12:48
AlexGubbay's picture
3
comments

Thanks for chipping in Craig :-)

And cheers Jonathan for your reply to my comments, much appreciated. Glad you accept the headline was both unrepresentative of the app, and what you said!

I think there will be two types of user for this app initially - the digitally-savvy surfer and the more traditional newspaper reader. Our aim is to cater for both.

That said, I agree it will be important to keep focusing on precisely those 'Digital' aspects you mention. And we will for sure be assessing performance and analytics to help inform how we take the app forward from here.

Alex

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25 Jan 2012 - 12:58
Jonathan Joyce's picture
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comments

Awesome :)

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25 Mar 2012 - 13:39
sspol20747's picture
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comments

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