iPad + NY Times = Meh

(Note: In March 2013, Search was finally added to the mobile apps. This was my primary objection. See other Updates at the end of this article.)

In November 2011, I bought an iPad. Yes, I am in love. BUT I have one very serious reservation. I am a dedicated NY Times reader/subscriber and I think their iPad app is lame. This makes me wonder about the iPad’s future. The NY Times was on the ground floor when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad in April 2010, so why does it seem to me that they are not making an effort to have a great app? The iPhone/iPod Touch app is better. The Times Reader web app is excellent and their website viewed in a browser is the multi-media gold standard of journalism.

iPad and iPod Touch
Viewing the New York Times: 1. iPad app, 2. iPod app, 3. web site in Safari

In general, the iPad reading experience is terrific. Of course it is different than reading a paper book, magazine or newspaper but it is much more intimate and personal than reading on a computer. Designer Ben Hoff has a great post iPad: Redefining Media Consumption that expresses my experience:“The interfaces of many apps that are out right now for the iPad, make you never want to view the standard website. YouTube looks amazing. The Maps app is just wow! Instapaper makes for a great, easy on the eye read of saved web content. The reason that these look so great, opposed to their native web-based forms, is that they were designed to fit specifically on one screen and one device so they are customized to look and work exactly the same, all day, everyday. When viewing the native website, depending on what computer, browser, screen size, etc. everything will look different. On the iPad, not the case. The apps just look beautiful (with exception to a few I’d assume)! The Apps are what makes and will continue to make the iPad a major success.”

Have you noticed how much attention tablets are generating? (just kidding) Reading is going digital and Apple has the opportunity to dominate this medium the way they do with music. The iPod is not just a great device for buying and listening to music but THE platform for doing so. Readers will always want their books but magazines and newspapers really should be read on-line. Save a Tree and all that, plus the immediacy and added media content available make it a no-brainer when combined with a pleasant reading experience because of a well designed format. I enjoy sitting in my club chair (or in bed) and reading on the iPad.

I want to know why the NY Times app is so… meh. Let me explain my reaction. First: there is no Search function. That just doesn’t make any sense. The iPhone app has one. (I do not use a cell phone enough to want the iPhone. But I did get the iPod Touch three years ago. It became an extension of me. That is why I got the iPad. The iPod Touch and the iPhone use the same apps)

Second: graphics. With out Flash, the iPad can’t deliver the great on-line content that is on the NY Times web site. I realized this when I saw an article about the Metropolitan Museum restoring a Velazquez painting.


I found it reading the print edition. The photo was in black and white. Wanting to see the painting in color, I looked for the article on my iPad. What a shock when I found the article but it was unillustrated. Not even a photo. I went on line and there was a great graphic that allowed you to examine the painting before and after restoration. And there was an audio interview with Keith Christiansen, chairman of the museum’s Department of European Paintings and Michael Gallagher, the museum’s chief paintings conservator. (see above) This is the kind of added multi media content that readers expect to find on the internet.

After this, I began to understand that N Y Times was not putting much effort into their iPad app. I can think of a few reasons for that but would like to find someone who has first hand knowledge. My experience with the app is limited but it has lead me to not trust it and hesitate using it. This is not what Apple or the New York Times wants.

Which brings me to the Times Reader. This is an app subscribers can download to their computer. It formats the newspaper, presenting a great reading experience. It runs Flash and performs they way I would expect the iPad app to perform, though I just did a search and could not find the Velazquez article.

I have been asking and searching for weeks but have not been able to get any results. In mid 2010 they announced it will become a paid subscription app in 2011. Maybe they are focusing on that launch though there have been no recent publicity. Maybe the release of the New Corp’s Daily iPad app this week will bring about new updates. If you have an opinion or know someone I can contact, please leave a comment.

UPDATES: 040412 We changed our NY Times account to a Weekend subscription. The piles of papers on the weekdays just seemed too eco-unfriendly. Now we do read the paper via the app on weekdays and in print on Saturday and Sunday. Reading the Sunday Magazine in hand is something I do not want to give up. Also, I believe the Weekend subscription is at least half the price of All Week subscription.

09.5.11 This week when I saw that the NY Times iPad app was updated, I looked to see what revisions were included. There were no significant improvements in my opinion but I did see they asked for feedback, so I sent support@nytimes.com an email asking why they still do not have Search on their iPad app. I got a quick response that told me how to use the search engine on the nytimes.com website. This was disappointing, so I wrote them a longer version, asking if they could tell why the Search was not included. Their reply “At this time we do not have a reason as to why it is not included.  We hope that that feature is added within the app in the very near future.  Again, we appreciate your feedback and have passed it along to the appropriate department. Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance to you.

02.27.11: The Cost of Apple’s ‘Greed Tax’ by Philip Elmer-DeWitt is a good summary of the issues that confronting digital publishers. Personally, I think Apple will have to compromise. In time, Open Source (ie Google) will outflank them. Readers/consumers will purchase an Android tablet for their magazines and newspaper and migrate away from the iPad. Comparisons can be made to Apple’s “dictatorship” and Open Source’s democratic transparency. For reference, in the last three weeks has seen the Mid-East being transformed. Libya still has the Colonel, but for how long?01.17.11: This NY Times article For Magazines, a Bitter Pill in iPad, explains many of the issues publishers have with Apple. The magazine industry is discovering that although Apple may offer new opportunities with its devices, it exacts a heavy toll. But no comments from/about the NY Times?

01.17.11: For a expanded view on state of “reading,” see Virginia Heffernan’s Watch Me, Read Me in the NY Times Sunday Magazine The Medium column.


3 Responses

  1. I know this is a really old article, but as the guy who created the applications that you’re writing about, I have some answers for you… Though I’m no longer with The Times’, I do have some insight.

    It’s weird that you think that NYTimes wasn’t putting a significant effort behind the iPad, but yet you note that we were on stage with Mr. Jobs at the iPads release. I can’t really quantify the level of effort that it takes to migrate a 150 year old news organization to a revolutionarily different platform in 22 days (that’s how long our designer and I had, really). After that, there are very real problems with maintaining and building up application on a platform that was too new. In short, there weren’t enough developers around with the skill set to expand these apps.

    To be fair, some of the issues that you mentioned were inexcusable. Not having interactive content on the device early on was due simply to lack of investment in that area. Large corporations can’t pivot at a moments notice… Search was a similar problem, there simply wasn’t any infrastructure in place to support it for mobile.

  2. I will say that I have been a bit disappointed with a few newspaper apps as well and I really wish that they would make an dimmer or something similar to make it where the screen is more like a nook which I can read for hours.

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