The Guardian’s much anticipated new iPad edition reveals the philosophy of the team behind its development
The British daily, The Guardian, released one of the first iPad apps developed by a newspaper company back in April of last year, The Guardian Eyewitness – a beautiful photojournalism app that has been well received by iPad owners. One expected that a news app was right around the corner. That proved not to be the case.
Instead, the team at The Guardian has used the past year and a half to think about the new platform, to wait for the right digital publishing solutions to evolve so that they could create something that works well on the iPad, yet is recognizably a newspaper.
“The quick and easy answer would have been to do something that looked like a pdf file of the newspaper,” Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, wrote about the newspaper’s new tablet edition.
“Mark (Porter, design consultant) wasn’t having that. He wanted to create something that had the “feel” of a newspaper – legibility, browseabilty, a sense of hierarchy – with the tactile functionality of the iPad,” Rusbridger wrote.
So if producing a replica edition was out of the question, so, too, must have been the idea of copying the look and feel of the NYT/Financial Times iPad model. Otherwise, The Guardian could have produced an app much sooner.
The turning point appears to have been when Mark Porter, who has now launched his own design firm, drew a grid that could both organize content and create a hierarchy to the content, allowing more important stories to occupy greater space.
I suppose one could call a Flipboard look with an editor clearly at the controls.
We just came up with this idea of a simple grid,” Porter says in the promo video (see below), “but stories can occupy one cell of that grid, or two cells of that grid, or four cells of that grid, and so on. And immediately you’ve created a little kind of architecture in which there is a form for big stories, small stories, and intermediate stories.”
For me, this isn’t the great solution I might have hoped for – it sometimes lacks the beauty of print design. In fact, looking at the screenshot above I can say that sometimes this app is just plain ugly. But not all the section fronts look like the “front page” current does, sometimes it is very attractive, indeed. So this is definitely a very good start, and philosophically I love it.
The problem newspaper editors and publishers face, of course, is the need to design a product that can change quickly and easily, like the front page of a newspaper; that doesn’t lock you in, the way a website’s template often does; yet does not require whole sale design every day like a magazine-styled product would, like The Daily, for instance.
The free app, formerly call Guardian iPad edition, is meant for Apple’s Newsstand and requires that downloaders have installed iOS 5 (luckily, that isn’t of a hurdle today, but yesterday it prevented me from getting to this app). The app will deliver daily editions Monday through Sunday (the Sunday edition is The Observer, and is unavailable through the app).
Like the Orange County Register iPad app which sees itself as kind of an afternoon, leisure-time version of the morning paper, The Guardian’s first effort consciously is attempting to be a sit-back-and-read it type of application.
“We’ve consciously set out, with this version, to deliver the Guardian newspaper edition, something that will work for some of our most loyal and passionate readers. It’s a reflective once-a-day Guardian, designed and edited for iPad,” Rusbridger wrote.
The Guardian’s new tablet edition will give readers free access to the content through mid-January. Then a monthly subscription will cost £9.99 a month.
One element missing, that was discussed prior to launch, and is mentioned in the promotional video, is the integration of advertising. Looking at the section fronts, one can see where advertising might fit in. The articles, however, are designed much like the website stories, so I assume ads would be placed along the side of the stories. Like any new product launch, I would have liked to see ads included right from the beginning – this makes them easier to sell, and conditions the reader to expect them. If the ads don’t appear until later – say, right around the time readers are forced to pay for access to the issues – this will cause a number of readers to feel they are being abused.