Monday, May 17, 2010

Financial Times iPad app shows advances in form and function; offline edition perfect for the business travel

The financial newspapers, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times have a huge advantage both online and in mobile media in that their publishers have an easier time charging for content because of the very nature of the news they provide. Many readers can charge the cost of a subscription to their companies, or take the cost as tax write-off at year's end.

The new iPad app from the Financial Times. →

Both newspapers now have introduced free iPhone and iPad apps -- free, however, only in that it does not cost the user money to download the app. Accessing the content will still require a subscription of some sort.

While the WSJ launched their iPad app on April 3rd, the date Apple delivered the first tablets to buyers, the FT has been biding its time. The result is an app that is well-designed and user friendly. This is an app I enjoy using immensely -- especially since users will be able to sample the content until the end of July thanks to a single-sponsor: Hublot.

Left: The current edition can be downloaded for offline reading;
Right: The user can also click a button to go back to the Live Edition.

There is much to like about this FT iPad app. For instance, the reader can download the current day's edition for easy offline reading, but can then return to the live edition at the click of a button. This is a perfect option for business travelers who will be able to download their newspapers before boarding their flights, then read their newspapers without the need of an Internet connection.

Video is only available while online,
but the window-within-a window player
approach is excellent.

The main advantage of designing one's app this way is that the user does not end up downloading individual copies of the newspaper, then must deal with multiple issues.

If there is a weakness in the app it is in the inability of the reader to use the multi-touch features common in other apps and the Safari browser. This may have been done on purpose -- to make the app more stable -- but there are other options that developer could have used. For instance, it might be nice to have customizable fonts or font sizes that would be used in the news articles. These are things that could be added in an app update.

The reaction from users so far has been very positive. Although one should take the reviews in iTunes as a scientific survey of user satisfaction, it does give the developer a pretty good feel for how users are feeling about your app. As of this morning, the FT app has far more five-star reviews that one-star reviews -- and the critical reviews either touch on the eventual requirement to buy a subscription, or the lack of font manipulation. But compared to the New York Times app -- which may be popular, in that many iPad users have downloaded it, but highly criticized for its simple design and lack content -- the FT is a definite hit with users.

Left: The navigation bar at the top; Right: A typical news story layout.