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iPad App Review: The Times

I used to be a regular newspaper reader, and had The Guardian delivered daily for some years. But, in 2007 I moved to my current house and couldn’t find a newsagent who delivered. Being a lazy git, I can’t be bothered to take the hundred or so steps from my front door to the nearest shop to buy a paper, and so my readership lapsed.

Instead, I turned to getting my news online more and more. Especially via the Guardian website, where I could keep up with the writing of my favourite Guardian columnists right up until most of them left the paper, when my interest waned a bit.

Someone once said that from the outside, The Guardian looks like an exclusive club, and hence it struggles to build it’s readership. I think there’s some truth in that. I don’t feel the same connection to The Guardian that I once did. Nancy Banks-Smith’s TV reviews, Guy Browning’s columns, Anna Pickard’s columns, Gareth McLean’s thiny-veiled gossip columns, Emily Bell’s MediaGuardian leaders: These (and others) were the skeleton on which I hung my consumption of The Guardian, and once they evaporated there was nothing left but a mass of unstructured news I could get anywhere else. Heck, it’s not been the same since they axed Ros Taylor’s Wrap, and that wasn’t even a newspaper feature.

I guess what I’m trying to describe is my descent from Guardianista to media tart, moving from news outlet to news outlet depending on the news stories that were being hawked at any given time. And that’s pretty much where I am now. Google Reader gives me selected news from across the web, Twitter fills in the gaps, and I’m out of the habit of reading a single organ’s daily summary.

But then my iPad came along, and the opportunity arose to download The Times on a daily basis. And it is The Times – not some sliced and diced hint of the news, but an actual full-fat version of The Times formatted for the iPad, even including the crosswords and sudoku. And it is great.

One of the most important things about it is its release time. The Times has been available to download every day when I’ve woken up. I believe it’s released around 4am, but I’ve never bothered to wake myself up to check. Essentially, being there for the time I eat my cornflakes is what this app requires – and actually beats the paperboy who used to deliver.

20110329-080501.jpg I didn’t used to like The Times’s journalism much. I used to read it quite a lot when it was a broadsheet, but when it switched to tabloid it seemed to simultaneously switch to picture-led storytelling, which is a danger of the format. It gained ‘silly’ page three features, true tabloid style, and lost a lot of the genuinely interesting Times 2 human interest stuff. I don’t know if / when any of that changed in the print version, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case so much in the iPad edition, which feels much more like The Times of old.

In iPad terms, the experience is great. Landscape viewing tends to work best for me, with my iPad propped up in its case. News articles cross pages, swiping from right to left, whilst more in depth features tend to have the header on the right-left swipe, with a downwards pagination for the rest of the article. Pictures are often linked to videos or slideshows, accessed with a tap. And a ‘contents’ pop-up bar allows jumping quickly to any part of the paper (or a quick review of the headlines). Like most descriptions of user-interfaces, that makes it sound awfully complicated. It’s really quite intuitive.

The nature of the beast is that copy tends to lag behind current events, but articles are sometimes updated over the course of the day, and on heavy-news days, an additional 5pm edition is published. Brilliant.

20110329-080754.jpg Another benefit is the price… An online subscription, which includes access to the pay-walled website and the Sunday Times app costs £2 per week – bizarrely cheaper than the £9.99 subscription to the Times App alone.

But it’s not all good news. Because The Times is paywalled, there’s no social features. No ‘share this’, no ‘this is what others liked’, no ‘leave a comment’. It’s one-way communication, and feels a little out of step with modern life.

There’s also no search, which is a little bit of an odd omission, and there are ads – I’d estimate about five full pages per edition – though they’re easy enough to flick past and ignore.

Overall, I think the iPad experience of The Times is great, and I plan to stay subscribed. Whether that will change when The Guardian’s app is released later this month remains to be seen, but it will take something very impressive to blow The Times out of the water.


This is the first in a series of posts reviewing iPad Apps. Check back tomorrow for my review of the iWork Apps.

This 1,430th post was filed under: iPad App Reviews, Reviews, Technology, , , , , , , , , , , .

My Life-changing Experiment (aka ‘The Joy of Sox’)

Three years ago, everyone’s favourite Guardian columnist Tim Dowling wrote a G2 article listing low-cost ways to transform your human existence, in Even £50 can change your life.

His lowest budget suggestion was buying socks:

£50 [is] enough to be able to throw out your entire sock collection and buy a new set from Tesco. No more holes or mismatched pairs. Just fresh, clean socks every morning from now on.

Doesn’t that sound appealing?

Around the same time, another of my Guardian favourites, Anna Pickard, was blogging about the frustrations of socks, and perhaps because of the sheer volume of sock-orietated content that permeated my brain around then, the idea of having a whole new collection of socks has been lodged firmly in my mind ever since.

Now, back to 2010. Having recently accepted a dream job in Public Health, and having just about finished my job in General Practice, I was in the mood to treat myself this weekend. But this being credit-crunch Britain, and the job I’ve just finished being un-banded, the celebration was hardly going to be grandiose.

But – given Tim’s advice – why not make it life-changing nonetheless?

So off all my socks went to Oxfam (well, nearly all of them, I kept my favourite ones). And, clutching Clubcard vouchers, Partnership Card vouchers, and a Debenhams voucher from Kantar, off I went to the shops, and procured myself three fine sets of shiny new life-changing socks for nothing.

This does mean that I’ve swapped a whole drawer of socks for just about fourteen pairs, but it cost me nothing, and who needs more than two weeks’ worth of socks anyway?

I can officially declare that it is entirely liberating to have a whole collection of comfortable, hole-free, well matched pairs of brand new socks. That initial sense of mild disappointment and frustration each morning that “all my nice socks are in the wash” has been eliminated.

And my feet have never felt happier.

A Happy Foot

A Happy Foot - It's not mine, it's just illustrative. Courtesy of evelynishere (used under licence).

By-the-by, it turns out, that the Guardian‘s position on this has changed. Michael ‘Smugface’ White doesn’t do new socks. Instead

I still wear my own children’s discarded socks and, if they were a particularly good black pair, occasionally even darn them.

Just think of his poor feet.

Is this really, as he claims, an environmental micro-choice which remains with him from his time spent growing up in the aftermath of the Second World War? Or is it just a pitiable sign of a being a tight, grumpy old bastard? It’s hard to say for sure, but I know which explanation I favour.

Knowing what’s under his highly polished shoes, will we ever be able to take his pompous self-righteous TV political commentary seriously again? Here’s hoping no-one will.

This 1,415th post was filed under: Headliner, , , , , , , , , .

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