The New York Times on the iPad and other great media apps

by Brad Spirrison

Reading newspapers and magazines on the iPad is unlike any other media consumption experience that has ever existed.

On a 9.7-inch color screen, it is more about the context in which the stories are presented than it is the articles themselves. While the Internet, RSS readers and the vast majority of mobile applications encourage users to thumb through any number of headlines targeted to whatever filters they set, the iPad, like print-based traditional media, allows publishers to take a broader, more curated approach to serving up stories. 

These five iPad apps best represent how established media companies can shine in this new mobile medium.

1. NYT Editor's Choice

NYT Editor's ChoiceAs a 15-year subscriber to the New York Times, I read the paper online, via its iPhone app and (more leisurely) through the Sunday morning print edition. Although this free iPad application publishes only a small fraction of "all the news that's fit to print", the genius of NYT Editor's Choice is found in how it replicates the serendipity (previously only found in paper form) of helping you find stories you didn't even know you were looking for.

From the moment you open the application, you are greeted with a small variety of stories that include expanded headlines and color pictures. Each section of the iPad app - News, Business, Technology, Opinion, Features - provides 10-to-15 stories that are laid out elegantly in two screens. Once you click into a story, you find multi-column stories with pictures and a few ads sprinkled throughout.

While the lack of a dedicated sports section (although today's News section does include Final Four coverage) is regrettable, reading op-ed columns on the iPad makes you realize how much you miss reading the paper cover-to-cover everyday.

Unlike the Wall Street Journal's iPad app (see below), at least for now NYT Editor's choice is free. The Sulzberger family which controls the New York Times hints that the paper will experiment with per usage pricing models in the months ahead.

Regardless, this is a must-have application for both fans of the publication as well as anyone who appreciates the craftsmanship of a printed newspaper in digital form. 

2. TIME April 12, 2010

TIME APril 12, 2010The new definition for low-hanging fruit should be the decision of Time Magazine to put Steve Jobs on the cover of its first iPad application edition for April 12, 2010. After paying $4.99 to download the app, it was annoying to see an ad for an online trading company on the second page. Once you get past that (and the Apple candy), the Time app is a great illustration of how major magazines are approaching tablet publishing.

Like any printed magazine, you can navigate the app from page-to-page simply by scrolling your finger across the touch screen. A table of contents in the early pages, as we as a separately scrolled option at the bottom of the page, lets you jump into any story or section that most interests you.

After that initial negative reaction, the ads were no more intrusive than what you would find on a printed magazine. The industry is hoping that the iPad and other tablet computers will not only revitalizing advertising opportunities, but also be a way for them to get consumers to pay for digital content.

Stay tuned.

3. The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street JournalIn every way, the visual elegance of the free (at least to download) Wall Street Journal iPad app resembles that of the New York Times app described above. The app displays stories with the classic WSJ columns, which include multiple headlines and quick teasers for the major international and financial stories of the day.

The app also provides access to every, as far as I can tell, story that is available in the print edition of the paper. In short, there is no aesthetic or functional drop-off between the print and online editions and this tablet version. So far, the WSJ is more pleasing to read in tablet form than in any other media.

Unlike the NYT Editor's Choice, however, the app requires a weekly subscription starting at $3.99 in order to really dig into. Free access includes a list of all headlines, teasers and a couple full length stories with each session (at least my first few times running through it.). Thereafter, like the online version and WSJ iPhone application, payment is required.

4. Yahoo! Entertainment

Yahoo! EntertainmentA pioneer of the commercial Internet, Yahoo! is now a 15-year-old company that is getting a fast start on the iPad. This beautifully-constructed free iPad app is divided into three categories: a comprehensive entertainment news section, a directory of all available television options to watch organized by zip code, and video news, sports and weather reports.

The video section alone is worth the download, particularly if you are a tech enthusiast and want access to the Yahoo! Finance "tech ticker". The app is also one-stop shopping for the funniest digital videos around, including selections from the Onion News Network, JIBJAB, and StupidVideos.com.

 

 

 

5. USA Today for iPad

USA Today for iPadWhen it launched nearly three decades ago, the USA Today brought the graphical and less formal sensibility of television to the newspaper medium. While journalism professors were aghast, consumers responded immediately and the paper became one of the greatest commercial success stories in the industry over the last quarter of the 20th Century.

For a number of reasons, the USA Today never really distinguished itself online. This is probably because at the end of the day the stories within the paper are not all that compelling. Yet, wrapped within a beautiful and free iPad application, I can see myself reading this at the airport or just to get a mainstream account of what America is talking about.

The "Front Page" of the application dominates in real estate, and includes links to stories of all varieties. Those used to how the paper is organized in printed form can also access stories by the same categories of News, Money, Sports and Life.