A little over two months ago, in response to Martin Veitch’s tweet, I stated that both the book, and the newspaper will never die. I’m preparing to eat some humble pie. This week saw the launch of the Guardian’s new iPhone app. I’ve been using it for a little over 48 hours now, and I’m starting to wonder… Do I ever need to buy the paper version again?
I’ve always liked The Guardian. Not for its editorial (I prefer The Times), its business pages (I prefer the FT), or its rugby reviews (The Telegraph wins here). It’s simply the nicest paper to read, visually.
When it comes to colour, design, layout, font, The Guardian has absolutely nailed it. It’s a great looking paper, a visual masterpiece. Whilst sitting in Nude Espresso (one of the best coffee houses in East London) as usual either before work or on a Saturday morning, it’s the paper of choice.
This morning I tried something different. Instead of reaching for the familiar blue masthead, I took my phone out of my pocket, and with a quick swipe and a tap, I had The Guardian.
The Guardian team has done an amazing job on this app. It’s no doubt the BEST news app available for the iPhone. It’s slick, and looks like Apple has designed it in-house. With a smooth interface, I found myself flipping through stories faster than a Japanese origami master could ever manage with the paper version.
Gone was my argument for the need for tactile feel of the pages. The iPhone already feels great. Plus there’s all the benefits of going digital. There’s slick animations, access to photo galleries, and better still, access to all The Guardian podcasts on the move!
But the real kicker with this app is ‘offline reading’. In short, it allows you to download huge chunks (or all) of the daily news to your phone to read offline. For most news apps on the iPhone, this is their Achilles’ heel. As soon as you’re out of signal, you lose all access to the content which is effectively being streamed over the 3G connection.
So not only is it smaller and lighter than the paper, gone are the days of wrestling for an extra few inches of reading space on the tube to prop your triple folded paper just in front of your face, to then have to wait until the next station before you’re able to change the page.
As Marketing Week reported earlier this month, newspaper circulation is continuing to fall. In the first 24 hours of the app being released, it was already the top paid-for app in the UK and the US. In the app world, this is the equivalent of getting a global Christmas number 1 hit in the charts. It gives you prime place in the app store, and sends your downloads through the roof.
As it stands, it’s not going to replace The Sunday Times for me. £2 for what seems like more editorial than a Dickens novel, cracking open the plastic to reveal more supplements than a pharmacy would stock, you can’t beat it.
But I do fear that from now on, it’s the only paper I’ll ever buy again…
I still stand by my prediction that the Kindle won’t catch on, beyond the early adopter levels. It’s too low-tech. However I do believe that in the near future, Apple will no doubt soon release a tablet to beat all tablets (I’ll probably camp out overnight again like I did for my iPhone). The trick with these things, much like The Guardian has proved with its app, is that it’s all about the user interface.
For the reproduction of both books and newspapers on electronic devices, the key for designers is to not re-create the same interface that the reader has with paper. That is impossible. Paper feels too good. It’s too tactile, too romantic. Instead the only way to beat paper is to make the interface more fun, more interactive. Readers need to prefer digital to paper. Environmental concerns won’t cut it here.
So, I’m officially eating a big fat slice of humble pie. The death of the hardcopy newspaper is nigh, consider this its obituary. Books I believe will follow also, to be forever cast into the deepest depths of the country’s libraries museums.
The newspaper is dead. Long live digital news…