Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Boston Globe releases a tablet edition that it calls a 'replica" but really isn't – and that's good news for readers

I can just imagine the kinds of conversations that occur at inside newspapers today. In-house battles, inside the bureaucracy, often lead to really poorly conceived digital products, or none at all.

One paper that has vocally proclaimed a commitment to digital, but in reality been slow to enter the App Store with offerings, is The Boston Globe. It's The Big Picture app hasn't seen an update since January of 2011, for instance.
Last night a new universal app hit the App Store, The Boston Globe ePaper, and as its name implies, and the app description proudly states, this is a "full replica edition".

Well, TNM readers know all about replica editions, and I've run out of cuss words to describe them. But this, thank God, really isn't a replica edition - well, not in the traditional sense, anyway.

The app opens up to the library where readers can download their issues. The "paper" will cost you $0.99 or $14.99 a month. The 99 cent price is way too high for one edition of a digital paper but that's not the fault of the Globe, Apple's pricing floor is 99 cents. Current print or digital subscribers get access for free.

Downloaders of the app get access to two free issues, definitely a great move on the Globe's part. Not only does this help cynical media writers like myself look at the app (hey, I'd have paid 99 cents) but it will invite readers in to check it out.

Once your first issue is downloaded you can tap on the cover image to open it. If this were a true "replica" they would have tried to fit the whole page onto the display screen, and hence prevented you have reading anything other than the headlines. But the paper is set to fit width-wise so that it looks good in both portrait and landscape.

On the new iPad the page sparkles. On an older iPad it will still look fine but the new display really is a publisher's friend.

The stories and pages load somewhat slowly, but not unacceptably. Most importantly, as you can see from both the screenshots and the video below, the stories can be read in native tablet layouts similar to what NYT iPad readers are used to. Will the NYT's app soon adopt this look?

The app also features a text-to-speech option which will be nice for lots of readers.

If I were in Boston I would be an early adopter of this tablet edition. The look of a replica, combined with native text layouts, is certainly a better solution than a straight replica or the boxy look of so many newspaper apps. The use of the word "replica" might scare a small number of readers away who have already learned that native tablet products are superior to real replicas, but I have to assume that number will be small.

The video below will give a little more of an idea of the look and feel of the new Globe app as seen on the iPad: