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Dave Caolo: Another look at The Daily


Earlier today, my colleague Steve Sande published his initial impressions of The Daily, and Mel Martin added his perspective as a journalist. I also spent some time with the app this afternoon, and I have collected my initial thoughts here.

UI and Navigation

The Daily's designers were extremely ambitious. As a brand-spanking new technology (the device isn't even one year old), the iPad newspaper is a UI free-for-all. Check out USA TODAY, The New York Times, The Financial Times and The Daily. Each accomplishes the same tasks, like opening a story or moving between stories, differently. That's a good thing, as it sparks creativity and critical thought. How would I like this to work? What's the best way for a user to find a featured editorial? What's the best way to identify a video or slideshow?

It's also dangerous for the very same reason.

I'm afraid the designers at The Daily succumbed to the siren song of a blank slate on a hot, new device. The UI is, in a word, slow. Rupert and company demonstrated the carousel view this morning. It allows users to flick between sections and stories within a section. Think CoverFlow with a dash of Minority Report and you'll get the idea.

While it looks nice, there's a noticeable response latency. It's not terrible, but enough to be off-putting. Some of my colleagues suggested that quitting apps helps, but I shouldn't have to quit apps to make another one work. The stuttering is apparent elsewhere in the app, too. It almost feels like The Daily is optimized for iPad 2, with its rumored increased RAM and faster processor.

Of course, it's not all bad. I like that pages you've already seen are marked "Viewed" in the carousel, and a little tab identifies each story's section (news, sports, etc.). Plus, my local time, weather and location are displayed -- a nice touch.

Once you're reading a story, response time improves. Swiping from page to page is smooth and satisfying. In fact, moving within and between articles outside of the carousel is quite nice. WIRED Magazine for iPad, for example, uses a convoluted, "let's try to be tech-y" approach with horizontal and vertical swipes that aren't always apparent. By contrast, the majority of Daily articles swipe horizontally only. Those that go vertical prompt the reader with a discreet blue arrow. There's no guesswork required.

I should also mention the slider. At the top of each page is a slider that, when tapped, displays thumbnails of every page. Move left and right to browse and tap the page you'd like to jump to. I had a hard time scrolling slowly enough, but perhaps you'll have better luck.

Reading Experience

The typography is clear and legible. Articles alternate between white-on-black and black-on-white. There are a few blue headlines, and that's the extent of the colors used, fortunately. Another nice feature is Twitter integration. When reading an article on Rihanna, for example, her tweets are displayed in real time inside the article. Additionally, there is a poll about the Pittsburgh Steelers with real-time results, tweets about (not from) coach Mike Tomlin and a quiz about the Super Bowl. Participation certainly isn't necessary, but it adds to the sense of "connectivity" that many iPad users have come to expect.

Steve mentioned the sharing options, but I want to touch on the "Read Later" option. To mark an article for later reading, simply tap the share button in the upper right-hand corner and then tap the paper clip icon. Think of it as an extremely local version of Instapaper that's meant to save you a lot of swiping. Another nifty and unintentionally hilarious feature lets readers leave audio comments via the iPad's built-in mic. I've only found a few so far, apparently created by amateur comedians. We'll see if the Daily staff begin policing these in the future.

There's no copy-and-paste, highlighting or annotation, so bad luck if you dig those features.

The Real Test

For now, the app is new and free, and many people will try it out. At $0.14 per day, the cost is extremely low, but that doesn't guarantee subscribers. Here's a high-profile effort on a young, developing platform. Hugely popular, yes, but the habit Murdoch hopes to change -- buying a newspaper from a newsstand -- goes way back. There certainly are enough iPads out there to make The Daily a success. If only 10 percent of owners subscribe, News Corp will have a nice little audience. For now, I hesitate to make a prediction. It's a nice 1.0 release that will benefit from some optimization, and likely scream on the iPad 2. I'd say they had a successful launch day.

The real test begins in two weeks.

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