Monday, September 19, 2011

Post-Gazette has a second go at tablet publishing with its new iPad app, but design remains a major issue

In April of this year the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette launched its first tablet edition, PGSelect. The app was unique among newspaper apps in that it cost a couple of bucks to download, but then gave you the content for free. The content was limited, as the name would imply, but at least it was free once you ponied up two bucks.
In that post in April I complained that the real problem with the PGSelect app was not programming, it was design. I then looked at the Post-Gazette website and was equally unimpressed. But the print edition seemed attractive enough, so the problem, I concluded, lay with the digital design team.

Late on Friday the Post-Gazette had its second iPad app hit the App Store, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for iPad, and as the name would imply, this app gives the reader full access to the content. This time both the app and the access is free, with only a banner ad along the bottom (currently a house ad) that hints at any business model.

Unfortunately the design problems continue.

While the app description inside the App Store has screenshots that looks pretty good, when the user opens up the actual app one is presented with something far different. As one can see below, if the current lead story contains a photo the layout is OK – boxy, but OK. But if there are no photos, well then, it is a box-fest (and an art director's nightmare).

If the lead story in the section has a photo (left) then the page layout works,
if there is no photo (right) then the layout is boxy in the extreme.

Flipping through the various sections – Breaking News, Arts & Living, Business, Local News, Opinion, Sports – the look is hit or miss. Some sections look fine because of the graphics that accompany the stories, others are just a collection of boxes filled with headlines and part of the first paragraph of the story.

Is this an improvement over PGSelect? Yes, it probably is. And when you consider that PGSelect was an obvious experiment, then one can see that the paper is still feeling its way around tablet publishing (so maybe one shouldn't too hard on them).

If there one thing I'd like to see, however, it is more of an emphasis on the app being a viable business venture. The lack of real estate given to advertising means that there won't be much revenue coming into this venture's P&L statement anytime soon. Then there is the issue of subscriptions and registration (it lacks both).

The good news for the Post-Gazette is that they probably have time to continue to experiment with their mobile and tablet apps as the competition, the Tribune-Review, has failed to launch anything beyond a simple news reader app to date.