On February 2nd, News Corp. launched The Daily, an iPad app that aims to bridge the gap between the print and digital world in the news arena. There were a number of news stories about this one before it arrived because Apple had been working with News Corp. to figure out a subscription payment structure and how to support it in the iTunes store. Curious, I downloaded the app, which nicely includes a 2 week free trial, and decided to see what all the fuss was about. Here’s what I found:

Launch Time

The first time I launched The Daily, I wound up washing an entire sink full of dishes before I actually read any news. I didn’t have my stopwatch handy the first time, but the next day I went back and actually timed how long it takes for the application to load.

  • 4.5 seconds of pure splash screen (a logo surrounded by a bunch of rounded rectangles, each of which shows the name of a newspaper section).
  • 1.5 seconds of “intro” video, which shows the category blocks from the splash screen flying away.
  • 27.5 seconds of “please wait” while the latest issue downloads. It’s important to note that this should only happen once a day, as that day’s issue is downloaded.
  • At this point, the main UI appears, although there is still a loading indicator in the upper left-hand corner. While I was running my stopwatch, this loading indicator remained on the screen for another three and half minutes.

Considering I recorded these times while at home on my WiFi network, this is already a deal breaker for me. When I decide I want to read the news, I want to be able to pick something up and start reading. If I had an actual newspaper in my hand I could do that.

Layout

The way that the main screen is laid out in The Daily is inefficient, to say the least. It has a “coverflow” type appearance that lets you scroll through articles by viewing a snapshot of the article’s first page. Below the articles is a list of the different sections available. At the top of the screen is nothing, absolutely nothing, except for the weather in the right-hand corner. The main UI wastes about 1/4 of the screen real estate in landscape, and almost 1/3 in portrait! The main reason I am being so picky about this wasted space is because, the way the article covers are laid out, you can only read three headlines at a time.

Once you get into an article, the content is laid out much better, taking up most of the screen. It’s interesting to have a newspaper-like experience with videos embedded into the content as well as interactive polls and lists of relevant tweets in some places.

One unfortunate design decision I noticed with some of the in-article content is that sometimes you get different content in portrait vs. landscape. For example, one article was nothing but a slideshow in portrait, with an actual note on the bottom of the screen to rotate to portrait to actually read the article. In another case, where the first page of an article was mostly a picture with the title and a short summary underneath it, only the title shows in landscape view.

Based on these two experiences, I would feel compelled to view every page of The Daily in both portrait and landscape just to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

One final thing I noticed on one page of an article was a “swipe for more” label with a down arrow. I swiped downwards. Nothing happened. It turns out the arrows were to indicate that there was additional content below the current view. Swiping upwards (the same as you would when scrolling downwards on a device with a touchscreen interface) revealed the additional content.

User Experience

I am disappointed in the quality of The Daily’s user experience. The main “coverflow” view has some of the choppiest animation I have seen on an iPad. At times, the entire application lagged behind my gestures for seconds, making me wonder if my taps or swipes had even registered.

In addition, the article snapshots on the main page are full of image compression artifacts which makes them very grainy. I found, in fact, that in most cases I could only read the headline, and not even the subtitle, of an article without jumping into the full view.

And jumping to a full article will cost you, as most articles take around 1.5 seconds to load (even on WiFi). This may not seem like a lot of time but, for someone who only has time to read news between work and grad school and life, every second counts!

Overall, the user experience in The Daily is lacking the polish that users have come to expect from apps on the iPhone and iPad. Lists that can be scrolled do not “bounce” when you reach the end, pinch-to-zoom does not let you get a closer look at images, and numerous other small features that are common in most apps just aren’t there. Add the app’s poor performance to the list, and I start to wonder whether this isn’t a beta release.

Content

I’m not a big news buff, and I’m the first to admit it. As far as I’m concerned, I can get the exact same news stories by going to CNN or MSNBC. The main difference is that news sites like CNN are just flat web pages, and TheDaily is an interactive app. As I discussed above, the interactive nature of The Daily really isn’t worth much right now (I do hope that it will improve in future releases, though).

Given the unpolished nature of The Daily’s initial release, I’d put it on a level playing field with any other news site on the Internet. Why, then, does News Corp. expect people to pay for its content, and still view ads on top of it all? That’s right, The Daily has ads in it. In the world of the iPhone and iPad, paying for an app almost always means no ads. Many developers use that as a sales strategy, releasing both a free version and a paid version of an app; the only difference between the two is that the paid version has no ads in it.

Conclusion

The Daily is a Web 1.5 application trying to crush the competition in a Web 2.0 world. Unless News Corp. changes its approach, I can’t imagine this digital newspaper will gain traction with anyone besides folks who aren’t actually tech savvy but want to appear to be.

Too many “old media” concepts have come along for the ride in this app, and anyone who has ditched the newspaper for RSS or twitter feeds still has no reason to look back. After spending about half an hour with The Daily, here’s what I did:

  • Created a Twitter list (Twitter accounts are free)
  • Added the MSNBC, Reuters, and CNN Breaking news Twitter feeds to that list
  • Popped open Flipboard (a free download from the iTunes store)
  • Added my new Twitter list as a section
  • Read the news

Until The Daily undergoes some drastic improvements, I’d say that anyone who owns an iPad and wants to read the news on the go should do the same.