Monday, December 20, 2010

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette releases tablet edition; iPad app is a cross between a replica edition and a native app

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has released its first tablet edition, a free app for the iPad which is an interesting cross between a replica edition and a native app.
Arkansas Online - The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette app offers up a replica edition of that morning's newspaper but embeds links in the headlines that take the reader to versions of the stories laid out in a more native tablet format. This allows for the insertion of advertising, though at this it does not look like the developers and the sales team are on the same page yet as the only ad I saw was for ePillow, an iPad accessory.

The use of a replica edition design may be used to make regular newspaper subscribers more comfortable with the tablet edition, but it is not necessary. iPad owners are familiar by now with what newspapers look like on their tablets, disguising the tablet edition as a print edition is probably not necessary. Besides, it locks down the front page which makes the app less useful when breaking news occurs throughout the day.

To compensate for this weakness, the app includes a link to an RSS feed driven version of the website (not seen in these screenshots). Unfortunately, because the newspaper uses a slideshow on its front page which shows the more important stories, these major stories are not as visible on the tablet version. As a result, the tablet edition ends up being a compromise between print and web -- and probably not as useful as either, though if a reader prefers the tablet experience this can be a good substitute for the print edition. (Also, the app crashed for me a couple of times, I'm sure they will want to address this in future updates.)

Left: The front page of this morning's edition with embedded links visible; Middle: The library where readers can 'order' issues, though the first two are complimentary; Right: links lead to articles in a more 'native' layout.

Readers who download the app get two complimentary issues, while subscribers can sign in to continue to have full access. It was not immediately apparent how much the paper is charging for a subscription, though it appears to be $9.99 online.

The newspaper also has an iPhone app in the iTunes App Store. The free mobile app was developed by Handmark which has been starting to release some iPad apps, as well -- though none, at this point, that offer native tablet designs.