The low-res "W" logo on the Freep iTunes page says it all.
App the presses!
The good news: after years of threatening to go mobile, the Winnipeg Free Press has finally hit the iPad.
The bad news: the app crashes so much, it makes a strong case for going back to newsprint.
I really want my hometown to have at least one media outlet with a kick-ass local news app, but I'm sad to say that a revolution in mobile media this app is not.
The final countdown
The first sign that the Free Press app is in trouble is that you launch it and can't actually see a clear rendering of the newspaper for a long, long time. And slow down, Magellan: if you dare try to click ahead before the app is ready, you're in for a long, frustrating, and crashy ride into iPad hell.
At the bottom of the app (to the right of the lower, black bar, below) there are three buttons I've never seen before on any app, which - I think - show that the app is "thinking," "rendering," or "downloading." Or all three?
Trouble is, the numbers that these buttons show "counting down" don't appear to mean anything - "0 T, 261-4, 107-4," anyone? And at least one of the buttons appears to never stop counting down - that is, until the app crashes, which it does - over and over and over.
The main selling point of any news app is that you can grab the headlines and breaking news on the fly. Sadly, this app is only a badly loading PDF when it could have been a clear and simple RSS feed, much like the Winnipeg Headlines iPhone app, so that the news is updated all day, every day with breaking news, not just a static document.
And the two one-star reviews (apart from mine) on the iTunes store back up that observation:
- Gunserotti: "The interface is very clunky and prone to crashes. It is also very slow. Overall a very poor interface and attempt."
- HollywoodOz: "Really weak news app. Hard to leaf through, crashes often, serves digital version of newspaperinstead of digital content on demand."
The forecast, like the page view, is hazy.
The best newspaper apps
By now, there are some great examples that show how to convert newspapers into awesome newspaper apps. They include:
- The New York Times app, the Cadillac of newspaper apps, recently changed its "Editors' Choice" app to include every article in every section of the paper for free (for now!). I've seen grown men break down and buy an iPad on the strength of this app alone. I would pay for this one.
- The Globe and Mail, a left-right, up-down news scroll that actually makes sense intuitively, looks clean and easy to read, and fits in comfortably with the Globe and Mail brand.
- USA Today, with its auto-scrolling ticker at the top of the page and insanely fast, and constantly updated breaking news.
- Reuters, Fluent News, and Associated Press give us different setups with different levels of success, but none is even remotely close to what I'd call "a failure."
- For people who love their app papers to look like regular papers, PressReader aggregates over 1,500 newspapers from 90 countries in 47 languages. You download them for a buck each, or subscribe to all of them for just $30 a month. I wrote about this app here.
- And online entities the Huffington Post and Slate prove that you don't have to be overly fancy to give readers an iPad-friendly version of the news.
- To get your favorite news sites into an easy-to-read iPad format, all you need to do is include the RSS feeds in Flipboard or Pulse app and - presto! - you've got a lovely and functional news ticker.
"The app is available free of charge for a trial period," says the blurb on the Winnipeg Free Press page on the iTunes Store, but I can't imagine that anyone would pay for the app in its present incarnation.
I really hope that this app is the start of something that will be constantly improved, and not the end of something that won't be.
John White writes about the Free Press app here and confirms the app is a "soft launch."