The Daily, the much-anticipated daily magazine designed specifically for the iPad (and soon other tablets) has launched, and the app based publication has been met with general good praise. The writing and photography is strong for the most part, and the publication has met its production schedule.
With that said, I can’t help but to feel that the app is missing some basic core functionality that holds the effort back from greatness. No matter how strong the content is, you have to look at it from a user perspective. And from that angle, it comes up lacking. How is The Daily lacking in its core functionality? Let’s take a look.
Don’t Lose The User On Startup
When you launch an application that encompasses a daily publication, it can be expected that the download process will take some time. But as compared to other daily apps, The Daily will leave you hanging for a much longer time on a new issue. You can expect a wait of a minute plus, with nothing to look at but the loading screen. And that is if everything goes as it should, which is not always the case.
Other daily apps will split up the loading between publication sections, getting you to the business at hand much quicker. If the app is truly well designed, it should continue to load while you are perusing the loaded content, making a somewhat lengthy process invisible to the end user. In most cases, there is simply no need to make the user wait for an entire publication to download when the actual user consumption process takes measurable time.
Keep It Smooth
If you are building an application that has literally hundreds of hands in creating the end product, please do not forget the basics. One of the basics to remember is that the interface presented to the user is how your user experiences your efforts.
With the carousel interface of The Daily, the motion is jerky and unresponsive at times. The display is even worse when you turn the iPad landscape, as if the extra display width is a problem for the app. Given the hardware present, this poor performance is simply not necessary. No matter how nice it looks, if you can’t make it practical for the end user then you are doing it wrong. Perhaps a good dose of KISS (Keep It Simple…) might be the best approach here, at least until the interface has had ample testing.
Orientation Should Not Be An Interface Element
Sometimes it is convenient to hold the iPad in a portrait fashion to make it more like a piece of paper, perhaps for easier reading. At other times, holding it landscape works great in order to view wide photographs and videos. It makes sense to turn it to an optimal position in order to get the most out of the display. And that makes sense.
But forcing the user to twist and turn the tablet in order to get to all of the content is almost a poor use of the hardware. After a few sessions with The Daily, it almost becomes a game to know when to twist the device to get to the pictures. And when you do get additional pictures, there is a good chance that you have lost your place in the publication. It gets to be confusing.
I can understand if the app was designed to lead the user to the optimal viewing position. But in-place videos in a portrait orientation maximizes to a portrait screen, which is less than optimal. The user is left to decide for themselves the best viewing orientation. There’s nothing wrong with that, but make it consistent. Orientation should not be treated as a button.
Previous Issue Access
When you read The Daily, remember where the save icon is (it looks like a paper clip). As you find things of interest, be sure to use that icon to save them. Also make sure that you hit that paper clip for every page of the article you want to keep, otherwise you will only get the selected pages. Why should you be sure to save anything of interest? Simple – it will be gone tomorrow.
Currently any content not saved will be wiped away when the next issue arrives, and there is no way to get a back copy. Did you read a great article last night that you want to share with someone this morning? If you didn’t save it, you are out of luck.
It goes without saying that if you miss a day, you will not be able to read it later. This is a glaring omission on the part of the app itself. I can understand keeping the space clear on the iPad, but the user interface should provide a way to pull a back issue on demand, at least for a few days past its publication date. Otherwise it lacks the capacity to be considered a serious information tool.
Eradicate the Bugs
With over a hundred people providing the journalism to create great content, hopefully they have developers on staff working to fix the bugs. Simple things, such as forcing the user to reload the issue every time you go into the app and a broken leaderboard for the games should be addressed immediately. It is understood that bugs will happen in a new product, but a quick and solid response on these and other problems will go a long ways to build confidence with users.
I hope that The Daily and other quality publications continue to find their way onto the new breed of tablets. When the publication is designed from the ground up for such an interactive device, the combination of media and journalism can create a powerful experience for users and a new avenue of growth for publishers. But whatever they do, I certainly hope future endeavors keep the app itself in mind during the creation process.