The Mario Blog
The iPadLab: News updates and the tablet

TAKEAWAY: We know that the tablet is a “lean back” platform, highly used in the evening hours. But does that mean that we can say goodbye to news updates when planning a newspaper app, especially an evening one?

TAKEAWAY: We know that the tablet is a “lean back” platform, highly used in the evening hours. But does that mean that we can say goodbye to news updates when planning a newspaper app, especially an evening one?

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At the expense of repeating myself, I will say it again: those of us involved in the development of news apps learn as we go. The book has not been written on the subject yet, and, research, which is minimal, tends to point in one direction: the tablet—-should I call it by its name, the iPad?—-is primarily used in the evening, what television execs refer to as prime time, the period covering 7 and 10 pm at night, when, supposedly we kick off our shoes, lie on the couch and turn the TV on. And, indeed, we are told that night tablet consumption goes hand in hand with TV viewing. I was going to say that this was strange, but two nights ago I found myself reading The New York Times tablet edition lying in bed while watching CNN.

The past two weeks I have spent inside the “news app kitchen” (it is the iPadLab) working with distinct clients, in different situations and countries, but all aiming for a new tablet edition before the end of 2011 or at least in January 2012.

The question that comes first: how often should we update this app?

The second question: if we opt for editioning, do we publish morning or evening?

Third: if we do an evening edition, how important is a news update component?

How often should we update this app?

Some of the answers you may already know, but here I go:

Different situations call for various approaches. But, remember, your online edition is the constant updater,and, in a sense so is Twitter, where many organizations are constantly posting updates, especially from reporters who establish their own mechanisms there. If you are going to have an edition, based on what we know about usability and users’ lifestyles, I would go for an evening edition, downloadable about 6 pm (18h).

Jeff Jarvis, in a piece written for The Guardian, writes that “No longer do the means of production and distribution of media necessitate boxing the world into neat, squared-off spaces published once a day and well after the fact. Freed of print’s strictures, we are finding many new and sometimes better ways to gather and share information.”

And he makes reference to Andy Carvin (@acarvin), the National Public Radio social strategist “who has been tweeting and retweeting news from the Arab spring, up to 1,300 times in a day. He adds journalistic value: finding witnesses who are on the ground and tapping into their networks; vetting facts and debunking rumours; assigning users to translate videos; adding context – but writing no articles.”

Storytelling, then, does not necessarily involve the article as we know it.

That is precisely why the Jarvis piece struck a chord with me. Jarvis is reminding us that an iPad app should have deep integration with the less-than-articles he mentions, through Twitter, Facebook, and relevant third-party blog posts. Indeed, but I take it one step further, to suggest that an article can be much more than the traditional article, with video, audio, and pop-ups.

News components

But about the news component: I maintain that your tablet edition, if it is specially designed and edited as such, curated to be a compilation of the best that the newsroom has produced that is tablet friendly, where stories can be given longer legs (as in pop up moments, videos, audio), or, longer legs as in extending a story that appeared in a shorter format in print or online. It is here that the magic of the tablet lies. It is because of this that one needs a dedicated editor who can review content, both words and visuals, and make selections. In the process, this tablet editor can ask a reporter to expand on a subject, to include an entire recorded interview as it happened, not just the ten questions that the printed newspaper had space for.

On the other hand, one can opt for the “constantly updatable” news app, such as The New York Times. The advantage is that everything is up to date; the disadvantage is that it is tougher to edit, art direct, and create a sense of completion. Not to mention that the publication’s online edition exists to do that, to be the vigilant 24/7 keeper of the updates, and users of tablets are well aware of this.

Storytelling and the tablet are a happy couple, barely in their honeymoon.

With the right people steering the ship, the tablet can be one of the richest storytelling platforms we know, with a ready audience that grows by the day, and that loves the iPad itself and continues to learn more about it, amazed for what it can do.

But, back to the news component.

Even if the tablet is a laid back “let’s read lying in the sofa” type of platform, in my experience, users want to be able to access news updates constantly, and so even the most special tablet edition must offer users a newsfeed button. We are adding this to the Gulf News Tablet in Dubai, the one element that many users told us they missed in the 1.5 version.

“An app is a continuous learning process, we believe in presenting a curated content enriched and adapted to the tablet and non only a mirror of our website, but also noticed that our users want the option of news updates because this gives them the opportunity to follow the latest stories without leaving they relax reading, because of this, our next update (to be launched first week of July) will include a newsfeed with the top news,” says Miguel Gomez, design director for Gulf News, who worked closely with me and the WoodWing team in the development of the Gulf News Tablet.

The Orange Country Register, which recently introduced its dedicated tablet edition, in the evening, has a Latest News component.

Users who are in the laid back mode may not wish to have news headlines staring at them as they eat a bowl of mango sorbet after dinner, but, who knows?, maybe just before they turn off the lights for the night, they would like to tap into that Newsfeed button and see what 10 or so stories are at the top of the heap.

We have an obligation to offer them this element as well. After all, we are creating news apps.

Here is how some handle updates

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The New York Times: constantly updated news app

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El Pais (Spain): updates regularly on a fixed column on the right (circled) called Ultima Hora (Latest News)

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Gulf News (Dubai): two daily editions,Morning Coffee (left) and Going Home. Soon adding Newsfeed at the request of users

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Austria’s WirtshaftBlatt, the financial daily: updates its e-reader with icons that lead to the latest update of a story, summary provided with possibility of linking for full story online

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Orange County Register: one evening dedicated app edition, with a Latest News box located upper right (circled) which allows for a review of top 20 latest stories

Of related interest:

The concept of editioning for iPad apps

Is Mobile Affecting When We Read?

App design event in New York City

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Here is what appears to be a great event coming up for those interested in learning more about the development and design of apps.

Our colleague, Joe Zeff, of Joe Zeff Design, will be among the presenters in this program sponsored by the Society of Publication Designers in New York City, July 26.

SPD describes the event as “a rare opportunity to interact with some of the most disruptive forces in digital publishing. Their companies are small yet their impact has been enormous, with groundbreaking apps that reinvent business models and rethink how content can come alive on the tablet.”

Tickets are available here.

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