App review: The Daily for iPad

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Yesterday was one of the biggest single app launches the iPad- and mobile OSes in general- have seen so far. The Daily is a massive project that has cost millions if you’re to believe online figures, the launch event had Apple representatives with iPad 2s (according to Reuters) and Apple rolled out a whole new in-app subscription service just for this app (for now, of course more will use it in the future). So what is it? Basically, it’s an iPad-only newspaper. It’s not an iPad app for an existing newspaper, nor is it a “newspaper” about the iPad, it’s a full fledged newspaper that is only released on the iPad- started by Rupert Murdoch himself.

I never really thought much about how old fashioned news apps on the iPad are until I started playing with The Daily. Yes, everyone and their grandparents have their own apps by now including newspapers and magazines, but these are at best iPad-optimized versions of the same content. It’s properly formatted for the screen and with good controls etc, but that’s it. The Daily on the other hand, takes it to a whole new level.

When you first launch the app, you’re greeted by a fullscreen, animated logo of the sort that you normally only find in games and those are actually video clips. The first time you launch it you get a message saying the first 2 weeks are free courtesy of Verizon (which is ironic seeing the iPad is still AT&T only). A one-week subscription is $1, a one-year subscription is $40.

When you get to the main view (after downloading the latest “issue”) you’re greeted by a Cover Flow-like carousel showing you the pages. Since the iPad doesn’t have Cover Flow like the iPhone/iPod touch that is actually a pretty nice thing to see on the iPad. You then have some controls on the bottom and on top- all of which are different “methods” of getting content.

On the bottom you have one button that starts displaying a video telling you about the issue you’re reading. It won’t read stories, just headlines etc- sort of like an introduction to the news that day. Another button will skip to the first article that actually has audio, where you can listen to it being read. This isn’t text-to-speech but instead a real recording, but unfortunately it’s not present on all (or even many) of the articles and so a feature that could have been gold for those who can’t for some reason read (like blind people) is suddenly more of a novelty.

There is also a button that shuffles to the next unread article as well as one that skips to the first unread article. On top you have a button to access the comment/sharing options, which includes Twitter, Facebook and Email. This menu is per-article, and the interesting thing is that you can actually record audio comments to articles. Other people can them play them back and “like/dislike” them. Text comments are of course also possible. You can also bookmark article to read later.

The thing that really makes The Daily interesting is that so much of the content is interactive. They have Sudoku and crossword puzzles like other newspapers, but these are actually proper games that are even connected to Game Center, Apple’s social gaming service. You browse the newspaper and suddenly stumble across a Sudoku page that is as much as Sudoku game as a standalone app.

They have also made a big deal about pictures, and included them in some interesting ways. On some articles you can browse an image gallery for the article on landscape mode and then turn the iPad to portrait mode to read the articles. Some articles even have 360 degree pictures, where you tap the picture to bring it up full screen and then pan around in true 360 degrees. Some pictures are also video thumbnails which you can click to view the video or just treat as illustrative pics. They also have full-page videos where the video is standalone as well as ads (yes, there are ads) that use interactive features like video- e.g for movie and TV trailers.

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Some articles also have clickable objects that alter the article itself. An example is a sports page where you can click on teams to bring up information, or a (apparently) recurring one-page feature with a (I assume) famous person who talks about his favorite iPad apps where you tap the app icons displayed to bring up the person’s comments on them. I’ve also seen interactive polls, Twitter feeds and Powerpoint-style animated text and illustrations here and there. All in all it’s a much more hands on way to read the news, that gives you the feeling of controlling what you’re reading rather than just consuming static pages one by one.

As for content, the sections include News, Gossip, Opinion, Arts & Life, Apps & Games and Sports. It’s a little bit of everything, but the app is only 2 days old so it’s too early to say what quality content they will have. It does however more resemble a magazine than a newspaper, though that might just be because it doesn’t look so old and outdated.

The app is US only for now, but I already showed you how to circumvent that little problem. It does ask for your location data when you first start it, which is then used to show weather in your region etc, but you can just deny it that and it will assume you’re in New York for some reason. The app is a bit sluggish and has crashed more than most apps, but that is a combination of being eyecandy-heavy and a brand new app with some bugs still in place. When the iPad 2 comes this app will be sure to reap the benefits of a faster CPU.

The Daily is an excellent app that proves without a doubt that tablets are here to stay. If they want to make any money off it though they have to drop the US exclusivity and also bring it to Android, as the world is a lot bigger than the US and iOS. Still, it’s a natural place to start seeing that Android on tablets didn’t really exist until yesterday anyways.

Since this is such a visual app I took lots of screenshots and even made a video to show you the app, so make sure to check those out. The video is a bit out of focus because my camera is crap, but you get the idea. One thing is for sure, I hope The Daily sees great success as this was one app that really made an impression, even if it’s more eye candy than what is strictly necessary. You can get it from the app store for free with a 14 day trial.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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