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Monday, April 12, 2010

News on the iPad: innovating on presentation

There's a great scene in Pulp Fiction that can only be found in the Director's Cut where Mia Wallace asks Vincent Vega if he is an Elvis man or a Beatles man.  I'm paraphrasing, but her point was that you can only be one or the other, really, and that one preference tells you a lot about a person.

I think the same is true for magazines and newspapers.   I have always loved magazines and hated newspapers.  Magazines are shiny and attractive to me, newspapers are dull and ugly.  And that effects how I enjoyed them.  As such, reading news in a newspaper has never been interesting to me.

I think that's why news on the iPad has me excited:  newspaper content is presented real time in the form of digital magazines.

As a function of my job, I spend a lot of time looking at content in various generic newsreaders, and I won't really touch too much on those here.  Because competition has mainly come from social media platforms, we haven't seen a lot of total innovation on presentation from these readers in some time.

That's why I find the newsreaders from the news agencies or media companies on the iPad interesting: they are creating newsreaders which are innovative in presentation, and in my opinion, very useful and engaging.   The clever and efficient use of image and video resources succeeds where previous attempts at general standardization have failed.  Certainly we've been able to mark up feed content like this for some time, but most news readers and feed processing platforms haven't been able to make smart decisions on what to do with such tags.

For instance, the BBC News reader is great, feels like a digital magazine to me, and draws you in first with a standard headline + picture.  The content itself has inline video that just works on the iPad platform, and it just seems really easy to browse the news and share it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the publishers which never had a printed newspaper are the ones that aren't encumbered by that format, and are the most innovative.  I've mentioned the BBC, but Thomson-Reuters has a great app as well.  In one view, you just start with pictures and jump to the content.

So how do the newspapers do in this endeavor?  Well, it certainly varies.  My favorite news app is probably the USATODAY app, which still looks like it's paper copy, but is a lot more interactive and, well useful.  I'd note that almost all of these things immediately ask for your permission to get your location and try to localize as much as they can.  USATODAY does this with it's weather, AP gets a bit more hyper-local with the news stories themselves.

The WSJ, well, looks like the WSJ - why they took this route, I am not sure since I think their original iPhone app was a bit more innovative in this regard.  I guess they are just hoping that the old men on the train who read the WSJ will see this iPad app as a straight replacement.  For their users, the snippet on the front page is part of their brand and I suppose they are staying with what works, but still, it doesn't seem to utilize the iPad platform at all.

Again, back to my original premise - I'm excited here because some of these news agencies are turning what was traditionally the fodder for boring newspaper presentation into the arguably sexier presentation of a magazine - so I really hope that this space continues to innovate along these lines.
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