Hands-On: The Economist iPad App


The Economist today released an iPad and iPhone edition of its magazine. The app itself is a free download, but in order to access actual issue content, you need to either be a subscriber or purchase issues individually for $5.99 each. I ran the iPad app through its paces to see how it stacks up.

First, it’s that you don’t have to put down any money to try things out. An “Editor’s highlights” selection of content is available for each issue. The preview actually contains a lot of good content, so it might be enough for casual users.

Once you’ve downloaded an issue, you can choose it by tapping the cover from the main screen, which presents you with the table of contents. Categories are listed on the left and specific articles on the right. It’s a good index — simply designed and easy to use — though I wouldn’t mind seeing an article synopsis along with the headlines in the right-hand column.

Articles are opened by tapping on them, and they are presented as a series of pages you flip through, instead of scrollable text. It’s a reading style choice that works well with magazine content, though I’d prefer an option to turn on continuous scrolling, too. You can “turn” pages all the way through the magazine, if you wish, and full-screen ads will appear between some articles. The Economist gets that part right: ads don’t appear inline in actual articles.

Once downloaded, the content is available for offline viewing, including an audio version of the magazine read by professional newscasters available via a button at the top of the interface that’s present in every UI view inside an issue. The audio version is a nice value-add feature that you don’t see very often in digital magazines.

Overall, it’s a nice experience, and easier to read on the iPhone than the Economist’s website. But it doesn’t really take advantage of the platform. Photos and tables that appear in articles can’t be zoomed or expanded, and there doesn’t appear to be any video content. The Economist ignores most of the customizable reading features from other reader apps, and sticks to the very basic black text on white background rubric, without any customization options, including text size adjustment.

For my money, I’d rather read The Economist on Kindle hardware, because at least there I have some control over how text appears, and with a text-heavy publication there’s little incentive to check it out on the iPad’s rich media display. But it’s a decent enough start, especially given the audio download feature, so users looking to listen rather than read will be well served.

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