First Look: The Daily’s Ups And Downs At Launch

Some people were able to load The Daily right off but I ran into problems right away, perhaps because I started slightly before noon. Pages were blank, media didn’t load, location didn’t work. That’s after the delay for accepting the updated iTunes terms and conditions and a lengthy download, then install. Finally I deleted the app and started over. Was it worth it?

Being free for the first two weeks helps. I’ve wasted time but at least I haven’t loaded the machine with quarters that it kept. Verizon is sponsoring free access through Feb. 16, which conveniently covers its iPhone launch. News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) is getting instant, non-price sensitive users for The Daily but no one has to put in data. The subscription door is open for $0.99 a week or $39.99 a year but why bother at this point? It’s not like you get a deal for signing up now.

The settings are minimal: breaking news notices, yes or no; launch Daily Anchor (the video news feed) at start; horoscope and location. I was going to skip horoscope, but then it made me an Aquarius by default so I had to switch.

The cover was chosen more for art than timeliness, a striking photo from yesterday in Egypt. I’m not sure how the Egypt package would read to me if it were first thing this morning; my guess, not as stale. The Daily gets points and some street cred for having correspondent Joshua Hersh in Cairo. How he contributes over the next few days will say a lot more than today’s story from yesterday.

I’m not as fixated as some I know about the idea that this literally is a daily paper — as long as a significant portion of that nearly $500,000 Rupert Murdoch said they’re spending a week goes to updating significant situations. If a riot’s kicking up, don’t leave me with the overnight look that sends a different message. But much of this digital paper doesn’t need to be touched again after it’s published. And it’s ok with me if it’s in a coherent container that works like a paper, as long it takes full advantage of being on an iPad. (In its lead editorial, The Daily calls itself “the newspaper of the 21st century.”)

So far, so good. The app features a sharing dashboard with Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and a way to post or record a comment to the app. Images are sharp and can tell their own stories in many cases, what you would expect from the folks who brought you the New York Post picture app. Video is sprinkled throughout. One page included a Twitter widget with current tweets on Egypt. A Rihanna feature shows her tweets in a widget. The advice column comes with an e-mail form to “ask me anything.” (That may sound small but it’s a deft touch. Unfortunately, it also took me out of the app without warning.) A feature called Americana is only available in the app but some other video is on its companion site. It’s got a lot of stretching left to do but it’s a good showing for a site that’s only been running live for six weeks and public for a couple of hours. One big gap: not enough outside linking and no Instapaper although stories can be saved to read in app.

Navigation: The Daily uses the carousel as an opening gambit and a way to cruise. You can also go by section or by page, touching a timeline at the top or swiping to the left to move forward. In case it isn’t intuitive enough, there’s a quick video. The look shifts from landscape to portrait. Sometimes stories can be read in landscape; sometimes they come with a symbol that says the iPad must be turned around to read. Sometimes pictures come with the symbol that you need to turn to see more photos. This will annoy some people who like their apps to be completely usable in either. Another annoyance — using the in-app Sudoku or Crossword puzzle requires Apple’s Game Center.

Advertising: What a shock — Twentieth Century Fox has a lengthy trailer that takes advantage of the full landscape screen (it has to be turned to be viewed). Land Rover is in the house with a video. HBO has a Big Love ad that works well small or full screen, a link to buy the fourth season on iTunes and a way to share on Facebook. Tapping on a small picture of Angry Birds in the Opinion section brought up Angry Birds HD, sort of. It’s been trying to load for two minutes.

Aim: The emphasis on the low subscription might be misleading to some. Murdoch is aiming for a young, affluent, aspirational crowd with this app, but it also reaches up. The fashion pages offer a clue: a $185 polo shirt and a $695 jacket.

First take: It will take most of that two weeks from Verizon to get a sense of what The Daily really is and what its staff can do. A lot of my media and tech colleagues will judge it on whether they like it or not personally and how it fits in the app pantheon. I can’t help but look at it that way but I also know I’m not the intended target. What matters in the long run is whether enough people will pay for it and whether it can survive long enough to make it to other devices.

In the short short term, it’s readable, relatively easy to navigate, and colorful enough to feel like it would be lost on a grayscale device like the Kindle while using enough iPad real estate to make me wonder if it would work on a Nook Color. I’ll see tomorrow morning how it reads alongside my print papers as a first-thing news source — and keep tabs to see how the staff handles breaking news.

One last word: If you have an iPad and were interested enough to get this far, don’t just read about it — try it out. Hey, it’s free through Feb. 16. Let us know what you think.