I confess: when I first looked at Apple’s new Newsstand app when iOS5 was released last week, I felt nonplussed. There didn’t seem to be any content in the store that I’d want to subscribe to. I became one of the many people who tried to find ways to hide the Newsstand icon altogether.
But now I’ve tried The Guardian, I’ve changed my mind. This is how e-newspapers should work.
Those of you who were around back in the 70s and 80s might remember seeing far-sighted predictions about the future of news distribution. There were predictions about electronic newspapers, describing simple flat tablets that would automatically update themselves with the day’s news, ready for their owner to pick up in the morning and read over breakfast.
That’s exactly what happens here, not just in The Guardian, but in any app designed to work with iOS’s built-in Automatic Downloads feature.
So not only is your daily paper waiting for you on your iPad when you get up in the morning, but reading it is delightful. You can simply swipe your way through the whole paper if you wish – or use the embedded hyperlinks and section menus. I particularly like the way the electronic version can be read in a similar fashion to the paper version. If you have no interest in the Finance section, for example, you can skip it, just as you would with a paper in hand.
There’s thoughtful use of photos and the occasional video clip, but none of this is done to excess. The result is a newspaper that’s a pleasure to read on the iPad, so much more so than The Daily (in my opinion). The design and layout offer just the right mix of content and white space. Lengthy articles get the room they need to go into detail, while pages of “news in brief” snippets work just as well. The background isn’t plain white, but an everso slightly “newspapery” shade – a small detail, but it makes reading more comfortable. There’s also a built-in web browser, so you can look at web stuff referenced in articles without having to switch to Safari.
Subscriptions are completely free for the first three months, which sounds unusually generous. But it’s a canny decision, I think. Three months for free will get more readers hooked on a daily news download, and encourage them to pay up for a monthly subscription (at £9.99 in the UK) when the time comes.
It also gives time for potential advertisers to gauge public interest – one thing that’s very noticeable about the current app is that advertising is limited to just two or three brands, with the same ads repeated many times.
With this app, The Guardian has set the standard for other newspaper publishers.