A couple of reasons why The Daily must go back to the drawing board

What can I say about The Daily that you don't know already? The much-hyped publication from News of the World arrived exclusively to the iPad last night leaving me with a mixed bag of feelings. The arrival of this juggernaut to the App Store has definitely pushed Apple to introduce a new revenue model for publishers, but has the effort been worth it?


 

I blogged about The Daily almost two months ago highlighting the raise of paywalls and the importance of an efficient solution for newspapers to populate our iPads. Early adopters have enjoyed their tablets for a year now, so we cannot consider this launch an early guest to the party. During their absence we have learned new ways to consume written media in pleasing ways: we used our good old RSS feeds with apps like Reeder, saved every article we wanted to read later with Instapaper and discovered new ways to remove the clutter with Readability. Don't let me forget about Flipboard and Pulse, also renovating the way we experience social and traditional media. So far, the App Store has been about offering users superb tools to deal with the content we wanted on our devices.
Will we continue to see paid apps for every publication we read like the Wired, Project, Plus or even the New Yorker? The new App Store subscriptions must deal with this without forgetting about free content.

The Daily wants to offer answers but fails to deliver. The huge effort that has gone into putting together a compelling editorial team to provide decent content has been let down by multitouch cliches and lack of (good) originality. Don't get me wrong: The Daily is more than an interactive PDF crammed with ads and dubious multimedia assets. It feels like a well round product that makes sense, but it's not as revolutionary as I had expected.

Android weather widget, check. Windows wallpaper? Check. Add Vista's Aero effect an we are done.

I have read the first and second number to get a taste of the content and it is well presented factual journalism. There is a prominence of gossip and comment you would expect in tabloids, but it is not reaching the levels of The Sun. The presentation or the articles resembles normal print magazines, so it's difficult to believe that this is a true digital publication. However, it is bundled with plenty of videos, pictures, 360 panoramic views which we have seen in other newsstand apps. Just like other magazines ported to iOS, The Daily has a different composition for landscape and portrait mode, although this doesn't always work. You feel encouraged to read on portrait mode but need to change to landscape to see slideshows, which felt more laggy than snappy. Sometimes tapping to zoom images or finding the "hot spots" is not intuitive - I hope it is a matter of getting used to it. 

I like the interactive part: voting in polls, sharing content on social networks and commenting. I suspect that The Daily will grow a very selected audience and comments will become one a valuable addition to the articles. News of the World's The Times uses a similar paywall approach and they are proud or their community, advertising the ability to comment and get replies from the article author. The lack of configuration arranging categories, selecting text or even changing the font seem like an opportunity lost here. Some people won't like the column display, but there is no option to change that.

 

Not so revolutionary, not very polished

The rumours suggesting that Steve Jobs helped to design this app must have been only rumours. From a usability point of view, The Daily relies heavily on "the carousel", the gimmick Apple calls Coverflow and stopped using three years ago. Nobody has been able to come up with a good solution to navigate through the different sections of the magazine without getting readers lost. Perhaps starting with Apple's human interface guidelines wasn't such a bad idea. Maybe I'm just too used to the way blogs and categories work, but having to flick through the whole paper to get to the Sports section can't be right. That's precisely what we had to do with a physical paper and the thing to avoid with a virtual one. Are you telling me that in a digital paper I can't find all the articles by the same journalist? Oh dear!

 

Using the carousel to welcome the reader has its benefits. Users quickly recognise the app and can be driven to their favourite section, see the video introduction or flick through the latest news. The interface doesn't feel like an iOS app and some buttons seemed copied from the user interface of a crappy Taiwanese TV recorder. Seriously. Other usability decisions will need to be addressed quickly. Can anyone explain why the carousel has every single page on the newspaper? Imagine putting all the pages of a normal newspaper on the floor of your room and then choose what you fancy reading. It just not going to work. Using the top page navigation bar, the "Visual browser", is more enjoyable - bear in mind we are used to see this in iBooks already. Simply scroll through all the pages in the newspaper and tap to start reading. I haven't managed  to understand what the blue highlight is for. Does it indicate read items? Maybe new items? I'll need to get used to it. 

 

What's next?

There are a couple of glitches that I hope are be fixed soon for the sake of future subscribers. When you exit the app, or simply switch to a different one in the multitasking bar, The Daily will automatically forget The last thing you were doing. So let's say I quickly look something up on Google to cheat on the crossword. Well, you'll return to your welcome carousel screen. And the same goes for every page in the newspaper. Also, returning to the app starts downloading the latest issue 8/10 times I have launched the app this morning. Again, being an app with daily updates, I hope the refine these issues to make up for a better reading experience. Last but not least, there is no way to fill in the crossword on landscape mode although iPad owners love to use the full size keyboard. 

 

Overall, the launch of The Daily has been disappointing. It is a different effort to monetise publications on the App Store in a world where we have all the free content we want. The only reason why The Daily is relevant is for addressing this dilemma and heading the start of a revolution (?) towards paid subscriptions on iOS devices. There are a lot of lessons to be learned a the $30 million fund should give The Daily enough maneuvering room to improve. As apps go, I see no difference compared with other magazine experiments. If the theory that content is king successes in the long term and can sell it to advertisers, we might see other publishers joining the game. In my case, it hasn't made me tick at all.