April 2, 2014

NYT Now, the new iOS app from The New York Times that’s free for digital subscribers and $8 per month otherwise if you want to read more than 10 articles, is live in the App Store.

Three quick takeaways:

Trendy presentation tweaks, but same news content

During NYT Now’s first morning it offered mostly the same news content you would find at NYTimes.com or in the main NYT app. The news selection differentiates itself from the other NYT app by adding trendy mobile features: bigger photos, more white space, and an indication of how long it’ll take to read each story.

It also adds bullet points for extra context before you jump into a story, but the existing app already includes similar — albeit less chunkified — pre-tap summaries/decks:

The New York Times app for iPhone, left, and the new NYT Now app, right.

The story selection, at least in the morning, isn’t much different from the Top News section of the regular NYT app. And the articles themselves aren’t trimmed down to size for this app. The main difference with NYT Now is that you get fewer of them at a time — plus nice morning and evening briefings.

Despite what the name might suggest, NYT Now isn’t exactly emphasizing breaking news — and its news alert lagged behind news aggregator Circa today:

I saw that breaking news story jump to the top of the app while I was using it this morning, but mostly NYT Now is emphasizing the most important stories, not the most recent stories. You get the feeling it’s not trying to compete with the likes of Circa and Breaking News alerts-wise, especially since those apps are pulling content from literally any news source and the Times is likely to only push breaking news that it independently verified and reported.

Getting in on the ‘curation’ game

The biggest value proposition of NYT Now is the section of aggregated content from around the Web, selected by Times editors (a team of 15 to 20 editors is dedicated to NYT Now).

In Andrew Beaujon’s preview of the app, lead editor Clifford Levy said outside testers “have told us they’re going to Twitter and Facebook less because they have this.” That’s a little hard to swallow, but “Our Picks” certainly offers a nice selection of content. It draws from many of the sources you’d expect, like The Atlantic, NPR, NBC News, and various large newspapers from around the country. But this morning it also linked to content from Vice News and a Yahoo Tech story by ex-Times columnist David Pogue. And I was unexpectedly treated to a YouTube link of Samuel L. Jackson’s slam poetry from last night’s “Tonight Show.”

So this isn’t The New York Times of old. (Incidentally, if you want to read the Times of old, the company has also redesigned its TimesMachine archive of back copies of the newspaper.) But there’s still lots of value in the old, comprehensive NYT app.

I suspect many Times subscribers will now be switching between the two apps to get the best of both worlds. And maybe we’ll see some consolidation of features down the road to ensure a less splintered experience for those who value both the comprehensiveness of the NYT app and the aggregated content and more pleasant browsing experience of NYT Now.

A cheap subscription option — for iPhone users only

The Times told Poynter last week that the company has no plans yet to build an Android version of NYT Now. That makes some sense.

Users of iPhones tend to be a little better educated than Android users and live and work in more affluent areas. Owners of iPhones also spend more money on apps. At $8 per month, a NYT Now-only subscription is a less expensive way to get access to some Times content, but I wouldn’t characterize it as cheap.

Despite the fact that Android runs on a majority of U.S. smartphones, the Times likely looked at its overall audience demographics and who uses its existing digital products to determine that iOS was its best bet.

But it’s still a shame that an Android version isn’t in development. This isn’t the Times for the masses; it’s The New York Times for a few more people (think those getting by with an 18-month-old iPhone instead of a brand new one), or for those who already subscribe and like the new features.

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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