Monday, June 20, 2011

Chicago Tribune's first tablet edition debuts; look is consistent with newly unveiled website redesign

It has been a long time coming, but the Chicago Tribune finally has released its first tablet edition, a free app for the iPad.
Chicago Tribune for iPad is a well designed application, even if its overall look is borrowed from its recent ill-conceived website redesign. The look is boxy and simplistic, just like the website, complete devoid of any sense of style and creativity.

The iPad edition is currently sponsored by NorthShore University HealthSystem, and the app description gives no hint that it will eventually require a subscription to access the content. Instead, the app requires you to sign into your current account, sign-in using Google or other methods, or simply create a new account. In this way the Trib is gaining some user information, but no revenue.

As for the app's features, well, they are slim pickings. As you would expect from a native app, rather than a replica edition, the app works well in both portrait and landscape. But the app does not allow for offline reading, making it pretty useless on a plane, and of questionable use on a train. Readers that do not own the 3G model are out of luck as there is no way to download the content for offline reading, a feature that has been a regular part of tablet apps for quite a while now.

The app also doesn't take advantage of push notifications, another feature you would expect from a news app. The weather can no be customized beyond the three choices of Downtown, O'Hare or Midway.

Left: The registration page; Middle: The home page with navigation instructions overlaid on top; Right: a typical story layout.

Had the Tribune Company released this app a year ago one might have been impressed with its overall usefulness. But we are now in the era of the iPad 2, awaiting the fall release of iOS 5. Offline reading, AirPlay video streaming, push notifications are not just common, but are quickly becoming the norm in news applications.

This first app, if simply a starting point, will work – I can say that much. It opens, it does not crash, and it allows access to the content. But is it really much more useful than the website (which by the way, delivers all its video in Flash, making it useless to iOS device owners)?