August 27, 2014 Last Updated 9:11 am

amNewYork and USA Today get major updates to their smartphone and tablet apps

Both newspaper publishers make major changes to their app designs, but only Newsday’s amNewYork succeeds in actually improving their apps

Two major newspapers made big change to their iOS apps this week, less than a month before the introduction of iOS 8. Normally, developers wait until after the release of a new OS before making big changes, but no doubt the newspapers and their partners were working on their new apps for a while now.

AM-NY-iPadamNewYork, the morning free daily newspaper for Manhattan from Newsday (owned by Cablevision), updated their iOS and Android apps last week. The new apps, built on the PageSuite platform, feature real-time news feeds, as well as a replica edition of the print newspaper, enhanced with links, click-through banner ads, and multimedia.

The new apps also introduce some additional advertising real estate with full-page interstitials.

A new sync feature allows readers to download and store articles for offline reading, a useful feature for those using the subway to commute to work.

The amNewYork iOS apps are stand-alone apps – that is, they are not using the Apple Newsstand. Many publishers are currently rethinking the wisdom of using the Newsstand due to its disorganization, the fact that the apps are hidden away in a separate folder (and with iOS 7, the Newsstand folder itself can be placed inside another folder), as well as the issues users are currently having with background downloading of issues.

Apps, such as that for USA Today, have long been stand-alone – and while the thinking was that they would eventually move into the Newsstand, than probably won’t happen now.

USAT-oldnew

Left: the old 3-column app; Right: the new 1-column app

Both USA Today iOS apps were updated today. USA TODAY for iPhone was redesigned for what its developer says is a cleaner look. The cartoons are also fixed (they seem pretty happy about that).

USA TODAY for iPad received the same update and now sports a new design for tablets that, to be honest, I really don’t understand.

The older app designed the news stories into a three column design similar to what the NYT uses. The new app reformats that news into a one column design that looks far more appropriate for a smartphone or small eReader device. In landscape, the way most newspaper readers of native editions use their devices, the design wastes a huge portion of the screen.

The advantage of the new look is that graphics can now appear larger than in the three column design. The disadvantage is that much of the tablet’s real estate is wasted, especially on a regularly sized iPad. On an iPad mini or small screened Android tablet, the redesigned look may be more justified.

The redesign points out the advantage magazine designers have with their digital editions. Not only do designers have more time to create their digital editions, but they have more freedom to create attractive, readable digital pages. Newspapers rely on app designs that feed the content into set designs, leading to a boring look, little variation, and very little freedom to create an appropriate design for a story. Instead what readers get is lots of boxes.

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