In the last post, I described feature requests I’d like to see in the New Yorker iPad app. I also hinted at my desire to love the app, but a number of strange quirks with it leave me wanting more.
I should note that one of my favorite apps on the iPad is Flipboard, because I think they’ve done a pretty stellar job in designing a good experience for reading content on the device. All my suggestions would go away if the New Yorker was published via Flipboard, but that’s probably not going to happen very soon unless the two companies hash out some agreeable subscription terms. Until then, here’s a list of what I’d change in v2.0 of the app.
1. Which Way Do I Flick to Move Between Pages?
The most awkward feature of the app is the navigation from one page of an article to the next. The New Yorker makes you flick downwards on the screen to move from page 1 to page 2. I can’t tell you how many times I was reading a page and flipped left to right to move to the next one, only to be annoyed that a very natural and intuitive movement resulted in completely unexpected behavior. It is one thing to adhere to affordances provided by a digital medium, but it’s equally important to remember the real-life version. Whether it’s the paper version of a book or a magazine, when I want to read the next page, I flip the page over, left to right and not up and down. Both iBooks and Flipboard understand this paradigm for tablets and maintained it in their respective apps. I wish the New Yorker had done it as well.
2. Better Overall Issue Navigation
It’d be nice if I could either tap the top status bar to jump to the start of an article or a specific page in the issue.
The current “slider” offered by the “Viewer” provides a nice preview of each article, but why not combine it with the “page by page” preview so you can access a specific article or jump to a specific page? I wouldn’t separate navigation into top and bottom sections as currently offered.
3. 100+ Mb Downloads per Issue
Broadband is faster these days, but that’s still not a good reason to warrant such humongous sized downloads. It’s like getting a phonebook-sized edition of each issue. The layout shifts a little between issues due to varying length of the articles, but overall, it’s pretty static. So why is there ~130 Mb download for each issue?
It appears to be a per-page snapshot of print version at a screen-readable resolution and saved as a JPEG. I’m assuming that this was attempted for a couple of reasons:
- Preserve the print version of the layout and font-type for “branding”
- Less work to produce a digital edition
While adhering to the paper version’s layout and fonts is nice for branding, a regular reader like me would happily trade them for better readability and UX that’s appropriate to the medium I’m reading on.
4. Does the app have to crash every time there’s a new issue to download?
I’m almost certain that every time a new issue is ready for me to “view”, the app crashes. As I write this article, the app has crashed in each of the five times I’ve launched it.
5. Concurrent Download of Multiple Issues
iOS supports multithreading when an app is a foreground process, and it allows several sockets open at once. So it is puzzling that the New Yorker app can only download one issue at a time. Additionally, if I’m downloading one issue and decide to download a second one, it conveniently pauses the first download, but never resumes it once the second one has finished.
Continuous Revenue Stream from Advertising
The New Yorker should take a lesson from web advertising and dynamically serve ads even in old issues.
In order to achieve such a feat, I’d consider building the app with the 3 distinct pieces. The overall magazine layout is the only static part released with the app, while articles and advertisements are treated as two distinct pieces of content, fetched dynamically at a later time.
Separating the content types achieves two nice benefits at once. It improves the download footprint and allows for displaying fresh, targeted ads that change based on when an issue is being read as opposed to getting the original static ad that was published with the paper copy. Imagine going through the archives to read an issue from ten years ago and seeing an advertisement for the Nissan Leaf instead of GM’s now defunct Saturn. The New Yorker could be capturing new ad revenue from old issues.
I’m very aware of the resource constraints that teams have to deal with in order to release software. However, translating what works well in the paper medium into the digital version with more thought to the native affordances would make the app a whole lot better and would lead my family to happily give up our paper subscription.