5 Things The Daily should learn from Flipboard, Angry Birds, Huffington Post and other iPad apps

Despite the early criticisms, The Daily is a decent app with some potential. But it could learn a few things from other apps ranging from Angry Birds to The Weather Channel.

Navigation: CNN

The Daily needs an index. Not an index on the Web — that’s a business decision, not a broken feature — but a primary navigation tool other than the carousel of stories.

CNN's iPad app features three different navigation modes, including headline-only.

CNN‘s iPad app handles this quite effectively. Readers have a choice of three navigation paradigms: a grid, a carousel-like photo browser, or a simple list of headlines. At the least, The Daily needs a text navigation option, organized by section.

Aside from providing a navigation option, the headline screen should highlight recently updated pages or stories. As I noted on Monday, finding midday updates within the app is like a game of Where’s Waldo.

Performance: NPR, The Dallas Morning News

The frequent, lengthy waits to download a “new issue” reveal shortcomings in design, not just performance.

Every news iPad app I have used faces the challenge of updating new content as soon as it launches. Most, however, handle this better than The Daily.

NPR‘s app displays stories from the last download — which could be a day old — as it loads the latest news. The Dallas Morning News app also plays catch-up, presenting outdated articles for 15 to 20 seconds until it updates.

The flaw with The Daily is that it presents the reader with a content-free notification screen almost immediately upon opening the app. It is the act of staring at an empty screen for 60 seconds that makes me want to switch to my RSS reader. Instead, the app should present a list of stories from the last session and update in the background, enabling me to read one of those stories in the meantime.

Personalization: ESPN, The Weather Channel

Given the platform, customization and personalization could be a strength of The Daily. The app already provides local weather updates and easy access to sports news for teams chosen by the user.

The personalized sports pages in The Daily are not well designed for quick browsing.

However, the personalized sports screens in The Daily are poorly organized. The critical information I want — game times and scores — are not quickly accessible, and each “favorites” team is featured on a separate page. After a busy sports night, it takes several swipes to get the score for each of your teams.

The Daily’s weather page has a related issue. The default view is attractive but offers no interactivity or depth of information. It displays only a 12-hour or five-day forecast graphic, as well as two static weather maps.

In addition, the app isn’t suited for travelers who want to know the weather for their current location and news for their home-town teams. When I traveled to St. Petersburg from my home in New Hampshire this week and updated my location, the sports section assumed I’m a Tampa Bay Rays fan. I’ll look for that to be fixed in an upcoming version of the app.

ESPN’s ScoreCenter XL for the iPad handles personalization much better. I can see scores for a handful of my favorite teams on one page. Scores and game times are most prominent, though I can also access in-depth coverage for each team.

Likewise, The Weather Channel app provides a multitude of interactive maps, animated radar, severe weather alerts and video clips. The local forecast alone is rich with information, outlining conditions for the next 10 days and sunrise and sunset times.

I am not suggesting that The Daily should compete feature-for-feature with ESPN or The Weather Channel; those are niche applications. But if it’s going to bundle services, it has to offer something competitive.

Social news: Flipboard, Huffington Post, Washington Post

The Daily's Feb. 5, 2011 cover story featured John Hinckley.

As some have commented, so far news content in The Daily has felt thin. Cover stories in recent days have focused on John Hinckley and education reform. Even the publication’s coverage from Egypt feels a bit dated by the time it reaches the iPad.

Now, The Daily is not targeting readers of The New York Times, so its audience may well be satisfied with a minimum of international news and a large helping of sports, tech and gossip. But that doesn’t mean the app couldn’t give readers another avenue to find such news, especially when news breaks in Tucson, Ariz., or Egypt.

Last month I wrote that news apps should be more like Flipboard, mixing staff stories with news from around the Web, filtered by the user’s social networks. After reading The Daily for a week, I am even more convinced this is a strategy they need to consider.

The Daily just does not have enough reporters to provide a comprehensive news report every day. The publication needs to break away from its print-centric roots and bring in aggregated and curated content from outside its walls in order to bring readers back more than once a day. Otherwise, a large portion of their readership will find more timely alternatives; they may decide that it’s not worth subscribing to a news app that they rarely use.

The Huffington Post iPad app keeps readers coming back via a constantly updated blog format that’s heavy on aggregation and curation. The Washington Post does this through handpicked topics and links. The Daily needs to develop its own solution for this challenge.

Games: Angry Birds

Some have latched onto games as a potential audience-building strategy for The Daily. In fact, the publication does include Sudoku and a crossword puzzle, which shows that the publication already understands this concept. But it needs to take it to the next level.

We have known for years that many people buy newspapers for the ads and comics, not the news. So, I agree with Alex Weprin here: Angry Birds in The Daily would be a masterstroke. (I would have recommended that News Corp. buy the company that makes the game; unfortunately Electronic Arts already did.)

Who is to say that games, if they appeal to the right demographic, could not be the revenue platform for tablet-based journalism in the future? Perhaps a significant number of people would be willing to pay $39.99 a year for The Daily if it meant getting access to an exclusive Angry Birds level every month.

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