The speed with which it loads is the first sign that The Daily is different. JPEG artifacts and a distinctively print look for text-based articles are signs that things might be somewhat the same. So which is The Daily? Brave new format or warmed over rehash?
First, the good news. More than any existing newspaper or magazine app for the iPad, The Daily feels like it belongs on the platform. When it starts up, it asks for location and notification permission. It uses the location data to present you with your local weather in the upper right-hand corner of the home screen, which you can tap to go to the full forecast. At first launch (and presumably every time the app has to download a new issue), there’s a wait time as the magazine loads. Luckily, the app is smart enough to load an initial bit of content first, then download the rest in the background, so you don’t have to wait very long to get reading. It’s a much better experience than the long wait for each issue of Richard Branson’s iPad-only Project magazine.
Once loaded, the articles in the current issue of The Daily will appear in a cover-flow like carousel on the app’s main screen. You can swipe left or right to browse through these articles, and tap on one to bring it up in full. This is where I was less than impressed with the app. The preview thumbnails all have pretty heavy JPEG artifacts, and look like badly scanned pictures of pages. Once you click through, everything turns out fine, but it strikes me as a somewhat awkward and outdated way to organize your primary navigation interface, especially if you’re trying to distance yourself from the converted print model of iPad news apps, since it essentially emulates flipping through paper pages.
Once you actually click on an article, navigation gets better. Tapping the location indicator bar at the top of the interface opens up a drop-down tray of all the articles in the magazine, and you can scrub through to navigate back or forward. You can also click on any section title (News, Gossip, Opinion, Arts & Life, Apps & Games, Sports) to quickly jump to the start of each. Being immersed in The Daily feels much more comfortable and tailored to the iPad than does the high-level home view. Swiping left or right to navigate between pages works quite well, though there’s a bit of a stall — which varies in length — that mars the experience, and the fact that some pages scroll up and down while others continue on subsequent pages might be confusing to some (you can tell by the orientation of the blue arrow at the bottom of the page which method is used).
While in general, the app does very well with orientation changes, providing content no matter what your viewing preferences, in some cases how you turn the device will affect what you see. For the feature story of today’s issue about the current situation in Egypt, the app offers an image slideshow when viewing in landscape, and a text article in portrait. While this is an innovative use of features unique to the iPad, it won’t go over well with users who prefer to do their reading one way or the other. Having to physically upend the device while reading gets old quick.
Sharing, commenting and saving are a big strength of The Daily. The app allows users (once registered) to post comments on any content, either using text or by recording your comment using the iPad’s built-in microphone. Comments can be voted up or down, or reported as abuse. You can also post stories to Facebook or Twitter, and share them via the web, which provides a full version of the content selected as a web page, complete with links for downloading The Daily from the App Store. Finally, any article can be saved for later, which is how The Daily is currently getting around the issue of not providing access to back issues. It’s a nice workaround, in that it’ll save space on your device and allow you to quickly retrieve articles you deem important without wading through an entire issue.
Other interactive elements also shine. The built-in Sudoku and crossword puzzles, for instance (featuring Game Center support) are well-designed and implemented. And small touches like the ability to email The Daily’s advice columnist with a single tap make the app really feel like a newspaper made new. Since The Daily seems eager to embrace the app community of which it now finds itself a part, I’d love to see integration with other popular third-party apps like Instapaper and Twitter for iPad, but that’s a long shot.
The Sports section offers some of the best customization options, allowing you to pick your favorite teams to provide custom content. I found it difficult to find where to actually set this up initially, since it’s at the last page of the entire issue, and not in the app’s settings, where I would expect it to be. It is really cool once you do get it set up, though, and the process is made easier since the app auto-selects teams based on your location.
The audio and video features in The Daily are well done, loading and playing back without issue in my experience. The video anchor feature is a good way to get a summary of the top stories without sifting through the actual features, and could become much more useful if AirPlay video-out support is upcoming in iOS 4.3. The audio versions of the top stories are good too, performed by an actual voice actor instead of a computerized voice. I personally happen to find the guy they picked incredibly annoying, but your mileage may vary.
Overall, despite some issues with slow transitions and one crash related to video playback, The Daily provides a solid experience. Here’s the issue: The Daily is, like a newspaper, more or less designed as a once-a-day experience, with a few live updates with breaking news. The team behind the paper emphasized at the launch press conference earlier that the focus would be on preparing a finished daily product, however, with managing editor Jesse Angelo stating that was how he preferred to read his news, as compared to the constantly changing feature articles of the modern news blog. But at the same time, The Daily is far too media rich (busy) to make it something users are likely to casually peruse during their commute or while grabbing a quick coffee break.
The Daily isn’t aimed at those who pore obsessively over their Twitter and RSS feeds, eager for the latest news. Instead, it seems designed to appeal to iPad users adjusting to life without physical newspapers and finding current solutions inadequate, and it performs quite admirably in this capacity. It’s priced right, at just $0.14 per day, and the quality of the content seems quite good, at least as far as initial impressions. The question now is, can The Daily successfully find a daily place in the lives of iPad users?
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