The last spasms of a dying business model - Why the Guardian iPad App is a step into the past

Apple have released IOS5 (and a new phone, you may have heard of it), much will be written about new features, the notification centre, the ground breaking ability to take a photo by pressing an actual physical button - but I don't have the time or inclination to write a 5,000 word review. I do have the inclination to write about the "Newsstand" however, or as I shall call it from now on "The Last Spasms Of A Dying Business Model" TLSOADBM for short. Specifically I am writing about the new Guardian iPad app - the shiniest, yet most backwards looking piece of software associated with TLSOADBM (alright, Newstand). What's great. Initially at least, the app is good looking and easy to use. It's clear, fast, responsive to touches and swipes. Full screen photography (in both landscape and portrait) is included with many articles, inline hyperlinks have been inserted leading off site for more info.

What's terrible. Leaving the elephant in the room for a moment -

  • Comments created by active interested readers on articles that are also on the website, are not included
  • Text cannot be zoomed, copied or interacted with
  • If you try and share an article via twitter, it ignores your existing twitter account information and asks you for it again (something I was impressed the Lanyrd app does not do). Reports from Twitter land itself say there are many problems getting the app to share via twitter at all.
  • What we would call "thumbnail images" on the web proper, are just images, they cannot be touched to view a close up
  • I cannot, in any way, personalise the experience. I don't like sport, nothing against it, but I don't want to see it. I'd be a happy man if I never saw a peep out of the world cup, the rugby, or the accursed Olympics. The app offers me no way of even hiding the sport section, let alone promoting articles and subjects I am interested in.
  • Even though we're asked to pay £9.99 a month for the paper, it still has adverts. The Channel 4 logo is rather brashly spread all over the paper and it's adverts intersperse the content. CH4 lost all it's respect when they started Big Brother so quite why they think Guardian readers will be interested in their latest piece of ill researched trash / celebrity waffle I don't know.

The worst thing they have done, and it's unforgivable - the paper is out of date by the time you download it. The app is a literal representation of that days paper with all of the major drawbacks that that implies. A new edition is available at 6AM UK time, if a plane flew into the houses of parliament at 6:01, this app would't tell you about it. Integration with the up to date, regularly visited website is tacked on to the side of some articles as if they knew there should be something but were't quite sure what to do.

There's also a "On The Website" link as the final piece of the main navigation, which loads up new stories of the day - as if being up to date is something you may want to opt out of.

A simple responsive design for the Guardians existing website would have solved all of the problems, and for a fraction of the cost of this app. They could have offered the option of a paid subscription (for the very reasonable price of £9.99 a month) which would not show me any adverts. For people unwilling or unable to pay - the adverts stay the way they are on the current site. I don't think I'm new with this idea, ah what's this? The Boston Globe did it just the other day to massive international acclaim.

I should add, that the competition on Newsstand is broadly just as bad and generally worse than The Guardian iPad app. The Metro is an embarrassment of press release regurgitation in the physical world already, their iPad implementation is laughable. You're forced into landscape (despite the splash screen starting in portrait?), it's typographically hideous, text is uninteractive, calls to action do not look touchable, lazy, dull navigation dominates the top of the screen and it also uses the "daily issue" metaphor we so soundly threw away the day the internet invented blogs.

The Guardian app is a step backwards not forwards, it is trying to fit an old media paradigm (the daily print) into a world where days don't really exist, into a world where we can update things as they happen, in a world where you can write an article about a terrorist attack as soon as it happens in 6 words, extend it to 6 paragraphs an hour later and extend that to a 6 section in depth analysis. None of the possibilities and advantages of working with a fast, constantly connected smart media device are used, even when doing so would be cheaper.

Newststand will never be the success iTunes or the App Store have been, it will probably find a market for those who haven't yet moved away from the monthly publishing model (I admit I obsessively collect SFX magazine (also available on iPad)), but for anyone who has got used to a stream of articles rather than chunks handed out at the discretion of publishers - it's a bit pointless.

You fail Guardian, you fail totally and utterly in a way I did not expect you to. This endeavour deserves to die a quick painless death, and although I'm sure it will die, I sadly think it will be long and drawn out, over shadowing what will come next. I want to pay for your content, I want to access it in a timely manner, I don't want adverts and I want to access your content on the device of my choosing, why don't you want my money?