Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Chicago Sun-Times launches new stand-alone universal iOS app from NewspaperDirect, paper already has native tablet edition app in the Apple Newsstand

The Chicago Sun-Times, the daily newspaper NOT up for sale in the second city, today released a new replica edition app.

Chicago Sun-Times e-Edition joins another app, Chicago Sun-Times, as stand-alone apps inside the App Store. The previously released app mirrors the paper's web content, while the new e-edition app mirrors the tabloid print product.

The Sun-Times had previously been on a bit of a digital publishing spree launching Newsstand-supported tablet editions using the Mag+ platform. The apps for Splash, Sport by Chicago Sun-Times, Bears Extra and Bulls Extra all were native tablet editions with weekly publication schedules.

But the Sun-Times also has a native tablet edition for its paper, as well: Chicago Sun-Times for iPad. It's all very confusing if you are a reader, and things don't improve much on the Android platform where the paper has a replica edition app from Technavia.

The new app released today is from NewspaperDirect. Like other apps from the company, the app first appears as a straight replica edition app where the reader is forced to use pinch-to-zoom in order to read the stories. But each headline has a blue bar over it that signifies that the reader can tap it in order to pull up a text version of the same story. The solution is not ideal as every layout has to be the same, but it works and I find that it is a very enjoyable way to read a tablet edition that is essentially a replica edition.

You can can compare the two versions – replica and native – below. The middle animated GIF shows the way the new app handle story layouts, while the GIF on the right shows the way the older native app displays the same story from today's edition (the picture on the left is the library page from the new app):

I suppose the way to rationalize the release of this new tablet edition would be to say that there are some older readers who still enjoy the tabloid format and might be feeling uncomfortable with the native tablet design. It also is possible that the new e-edition involves no, or little investment on the part of the paper as revenue would be split with NewspaperDirect – assuming that is the arrangement the two parties have.

The biggest reason I can find to justify the release of the new NewspaperDirect built app is that it is universal, whereas the native tablet edition is only for the iPad. That means that the Sun-Times now has an iPhone app the delivers the content of the tabloid newspaper, as opposed to the other universal app, Chicago Sun-Times, which is delivering web content.

But is is confusing for readers who now have three main news apps to choose from. On the other hand, the paper has been aggressive in launching new digital products at a time when its rival, the Chicago Tribune, has been pulling back its app efforts. Several sports tablet editions were launched by Tribune Interactive for the Trib, but have since been pulled from the App Store.

Of course, things are quite up in the air at the Trib as the parent company has put its print newspapers up for sale. Speculation is that the papers may get sold to U-T San Diego owner Doug Manchester, a developer and promoter of conservative causes. The rumor is that the Koch brothers will back the venture. We'll see, but if U-T San Diego styled publishing comes to Chicago one thing can be said for sure: it will be good news for the Sun-Times.