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Post ships iPhone app; tech columnist reviews it

The Washington Post shipped an iPhone application this morning, the paper's first to offer access to the bulk of its coverage--and only its second release for Apple's smartphone since a 2008 update to its earlier Going Out Guide program.

The new Wash Post app, listed as compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch and the upcoming iPad, sells for $1.99. Although the app's listing on iTunes doesn't spell this out, that fee covers only a year of use, as Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti confirmed in an e-mail.

Using a redemption code provided by the Post's PR department, I downloaded the app this morning, have spent the rest of the day trying it out on an iPhone 3GS... and, I'm sorry to say, you should save your money for now.


The application itself looks and works a lot like the Post's current mobile-Web site, both in its simple listing of stories and the sparse presentation of each item--without most of their photos and any of their links or comments.

Like the mobile site, the app doesn't provide access to the Post's comics or crosswords. Unlike the mobile site, it also fails to list some popular Post blogs, such as Nationals Journal--although a search for "nationals journal" pulled up individual posts.

What you do get for your $1.99 is easy sharing of stories via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, plus the ability to save stories, blog posts and photo galleries for offline reading on its "MyPost" screen. To access all those options, you only need to swipe a finger left-to-right over an item.

The first feature helps the paper as much as it helps users. It's fair to ask why you should pay for the privilege of helping the Post to publicize its content. The second, meanwhile, only works for individual items. If I want to keep up with my workaholic colleague Ezra Klein, I can't just tell the app "download everything on his blog"; instead I have to save individual posts.

The price of the Post app does not yield an ad-free presentation. Its splash screen consists of a large Bank of America advertisement, while most other screens feature a small banner from the same company.

Finally, the MyPost offline mode exhibited some lockups today. Twice, the entire application stopped responding as I was reading a story I had saved; when I quit the program and tried relaunching it, it crashed a second time before starting up properly on the next try.

I know that a lot of you have been hoping for a Post iPhone app. (For those of you using other smartphones, Coratti said the company is "looking at every platform" and cited Android, BlackBerry and Windows as examples.) From talking to iPhone developers I know what kind of Web traffic a site-specific application can drive. So, speaking both as a reviewer and as a Post employee who'd like to see his employer succeed, I wish this program worked better.

Have you tried the Post app? Do you consider your $1.99 well spent? Post your own review in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 3, 2010; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  Mobile , The business we have chosen  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Apple finally gets around to suing somebody over its iPhone patents
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The Post app is okay. It's worth the 1.99 I spent. But it's not as good as my favorite apps --, Law School 100, and CNBC.

Posted by: post28 | March 3, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Not really feel like paying for a Post app when I already pay for a paper subscription. The app should be made available for free to subscribers to the paper.

Posted by: rtrilsch | March 3, 2010 11:12 PM | Report abuse

The Post app is garbage and a waste of money. Nowhere near the caliber of free apps like NY Times and USA Today or a paid app like CNN. I can't imagine what took the Post so long to come up with so little. No wonder print newspapers are dying--no creativity! This is now a blow to the Post's digital content.

Posted by: dodgms | March 4, 2010 2:15 AM | Report abuse

I'm definitely feeling underwhelmed by the Post app. Paying $1.99 ought to mean an ad-free app, or at least an app with less intrusive ads. The navigation is cumbersome and clunky. The app is unstable. The appearance is pedestrian and unrefined. There is nothing slick, or entertaining, or appealing about this app whatsoever. It's like a hotel room at a 2.5 star hotel.

I have no idea how anyone at WashPost thought they should charge $1.99 for an app that is far inferior to free apps from rival newspapers. I'm happy to pay the money to support the Post, but I wish they had a good app, because the Post deserves to have a good app.

Posted by: supercub | March 4, 2010 3:27 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand how the app is different from just changing the mobile browsing site.

Posted by: hesaid | March 4, 2010 6:18 AM | Report abuse

Agree that the app is underwhelming. Too easy to click on something and get big buttons for sharing articles, but tiny little banners to swip to go thru categories of blogs. Was hard to find any local content such as education, weather, style sections.

Only a few articles are displayed per category, maybe 5-6 and then the page doesn't scroll further down and you need to go back up again.

The NY Times and NPR apps are far better for reading actual news.

Posted by: tdtd4444 | March 4, 2010 6:56 AM | Report abuse

I haven't tried it, but if it's anything like their mobile Web site, I wouldn't waste the money. I hate the mobile site.

Posted by: moxilator | March 4, 2010 7:21 AM | Report abuse

Ha! for $1.99? I dont think so. I'll stick with AP, NYT and NPR, you know, the FREE ones...

Posted by: Krazijoe | March 4, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

I haven't looked at the app yet but I'm not bothered by the idea of 1.99 a year for access that is superior to using Safari to hit the mobile site.

Some features I would most want to see are:
- subscribing to post blogs (yours, Nats, Op-Ed)
- sync article links from firefox (or another browser) to the mobile app [I would want to load the site at home, find the articles I want to read, and have that list of links available to me on my phone]

Posted by: cvogt1 | March 4, 2010 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Why doesn't the mobile app have an Education section? There are a lot of education articles on the website. They should be collected in their own category.

Posted by: cc1221 | March 4, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

The people developing both the and this lame iPhone app appear to be clueless. About half the time when I browse to on my iPhone it forces me to the mobile version and about half the time it just lets me get to the full site. The mobile version is fast which is it's only redeeming quality. The articles available at mobile are always out of date compared to the full site. WP appears to be mimicking what NYTimes is doing with paid mobile access, but I have not tried the NYT iPhone app so can't comment on it meaningfully - perhaps Rob can do a review? The full NYT web site works great on iPhone without the broken mobile/full site that WP has. is worse than mobile.wp. The best mobile site I've seen is NYT say they are going to start charging but seeing how successful that was not at I doubt they'll do that in the end.

Posted by: rogernebel | March 4, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

I've paid for apps, but I would never pay for one with ads. Period. It's just adding insult to injury that they expect us to pay for accessing content and features that are free from a computer (and from viewing WP via Safari on my iPhone). I really hope they either add some functionality that is worth paying for, or make the app free to drive up usage of the site in general. But for now, I'm going to have to check out the FREE NYT app, which I hadn't before.

Posted by: MaxH | March 4, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Needs a lot of work but there is potential. Not currently worth the $1.99. Lets hope it can adapt and evolve over the next year or this be a huge dude for the paper.

Posted by: Rob35 | March 4, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Good luck at your new job...

Oh, you haven't been fired?

Gutsy call my friend...

Posted by: justmy2 | March 4, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Once again the post shows they are completely incompetent and ignorant when it comes to technology. How in the world is offering more limited access to their site, while making the purchasers put up with ads, a smart idea?

Like you said, I can view all this content from safari. I'm going to make a shortcut to the site on my home screen, rather than pay 2 bucks for almost nothing.

I love the post, I read it every day. But its as though they actively try to convince me that they don't want me to read the post.

Posted by: smithk1119 | March 4, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

How about a more exciting headline for this blog post?

Posted by: subwayguy | March 4, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

bummed about the advertising present in a paid app. lame. particularly when you pay for the app, get ads, AND don't even have access to anything but a few top stories, redskins, some more redskins (last I checked it's spring training for MLB, and hockey is still going strong and NFL is out of season) and only a small selection of the blogs.

Posted by: bigal197 | March 4, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

The Post should lock a few programmers in a room with nothing but the excellent NY Times app, and not let them out until they *at least* match it for quality and ease of use.

Of course, if the Post ever did come out with such a good app, I probably would cancel my paper subscription (but I'm seriously considering doing that anyway). But I agree with rtrislch -- no way am I going to pay for both.

Posted by: Janine1 | March 4, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Directs people STRAIGHT to a News Corp site somewhere... This is classic Rupert Murdoch crap. $1.99 - SCREW YOU!

Posted by: rbaldwin2 | March 4, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

It's only $2!! Less than a Starbucks, less than an single mean at McD's.

I read the website every day. I don't get the paper daily because, well, I hate paper. But I do like good reporting.

How cheap are all of you? Are we going to get stuck with Internet hacks when we put the major papers out of business?

They'll fix the tech issues over time. Spend some bucks to support the Post.

PS I have NO affiliation with the Post whatsoever other than being a reader.

Posted by: SE1323 | March 4, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Nicely done on this review. Thanks, WP, for allowing an honest post that is less than glowing on your iPhone app. This sort of article only adds credibility to your paper.

Posted by: hypernayte | March 4, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

"the app doesn't provide access to the Post's comics or crosswords. "

Is there some licensing issue with the comics? Or does the WaPo just think that people who read on devices don't read comics? Because the comics aren't on the Nook/Kindle versions either.

Posted by: wiredog | March 4, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Haven't tried the app yet, but from the screenshots it looks oddly similar to the NYTimes app, which is FREE and very well done. I love that I can use the app online as well as offline when I am riding Metro. And the NYTimes app is not just a cobbling together of a mobile site. I have access to everything. Example, I am looking at the main page of Now on the iPhone, I see exactly the same thing. On the the Technology section. Again, everything on the site is available on the iphone app. The mobile WP site is woefully out of sync with the main web site. If the app is just a rehash of the mobile site, that alone makes it not worth $1.99.

Posted by: kwbinMD | March 4, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Everything kwbinMD just said. I also read the Times every morning on the Metro. I love that it downloads everything.

SE1323, it's not a matter of being cheap. But they should either make it free with ads (like the Times) or not free without ads. And I pay A LOT for my dead tree subscription -- far more than the ever-shrinking paper is worth anymore. The Times is considering charging a fee for online access in the future -- but would give it free to dead-tree subscribers. That's fair.

Posted by: Janine1 | March 4, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I do like the fact that it saves stories so they can be read offline because thats what happens on the metro. I just wish it would download everything all at once and save it. Or let me choose which sections to download like Top News, Local, Lifestyle, Technology Blogs, etc.

It's a decent app and I'm fine with 1.99 for a year. Though I will say, having not known it is for a year until reading this and already having paid for it really kind of ticked me off. Like you are getting cheated. Make that known right away or you will make people mad and they won't come back.

Also, just like the mobile site, why are there no access to the chat transcripts??? come on.
The interface is a little funky especially with the tiny header selection, but it still works alright. Oh and the "More" section is exactly like the NY Times... like EXACTLY.

Overall, not too bad. I just hope it keeps getting improved and this is not the last update for 6 months or longer.

Posted by: adbspam | March 4, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

@rogernebel "About half the time when I browse to on my iPhone it forces me to the mobile version and about half the time it just lets me get to the full site." You do realize that has nothing whatsoever to do the app? This is a simple browser detect method running the site. When you browse to it on your iPhone, depending on what user_agent string Safari responds with, you get directed to either the mobile or full site. It's about 50/50 who's at fault...WP for checking in the first place or Apple for not building the mobile Safari to present a user_agent string appropriate for the full site, especially since Apple touts iPhone Safari as being the whole web.

Developers have a hard enough time keeping up with all the browsers out there. From experience, I can tell you that it's maddening trying to make a web page or web application be completely cross browser compatible. Safari and Firefox are generally ok because they adhere to standards. IE is the absolute worst. It adhere's to no standards whatsoever. The best we can do is to develop to a standard and make sure the code degrades gracefully when faced with an incompatible broswer. That's essentially why we have CSS.

I agree with you that it's a crap shoot as to which site you're going to get.

Posted by: kwbinMD | March 4, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I haven't tried the app, but probably won't based on the comments and the blog itself. I *AM* willing to pay $1.99 or slightly more for a year's subscription if the app works better than apparently it does, and if all of the content is accessible. I wanted to echo some of the criticisms here of the mobile website: I HATE that it shows only the top 3 stories, not all the headlines, under each section. The RSS feed used to do better than that. (But CNN's mobile site is worse.) My dad is a retired print journalist and it pains me to not be supporting the good writing and local coverage electronically, but for now I'll stick with what I can get for free.

Posted by: dcgman | March 4, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Ya know...too often, we the public quickly accuse the media of bias or getting pay-offs for reviewing certain products. I have no doubt that sometimes it is true. Hence, I wanted to call attention to Mr. Pegoraro's recommendation AGAINST paying for the WashPo iPhone app. The app of his employer, mind you.

We are quick to condemn our perceived notions of bias but far less in praising examples that rail against it.

Posted by: infojust4me | March 4, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

I purchased the new app and have played around with a bit. For $2 (less than the cost of three days' worth of print editions), it is not as bad as some of the comments here suggest. Still, it's fairly mediocre and not as good as either the free NYT or USA Today apps. Navigation is cumbersome and the ad on a paid app is annoying. However, given that the Post's free mobile site is awful and the full website is often very slow to load and features a terribly cluttered homepage, the paid app does provide a faster and more efficient way of reading the Post on an iPhone.

Posted by: OTBerbur | March 5, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I don't have any problem with WP mobile site. If I want to read a post later it's a simple matter of bookmarking it in Safari. As far as puzzles & comics they cannot be viewed on iPhone anyways. I also have USA today on phone and feel that one is not better than another. Thank-you Rob for your frank opinion on this app.

Posted by: drdmarie | March 5, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the comments, everybody. One thing you should know: Nobody at the Post asked me to tone this thing down or take anything out of the review.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | March 5, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

So, the WP is reviewing the WP app?

How nice of them to give their own product rave reviews!

Posted by: AxelDC | March 7, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

No Android = fail. iPhone is so last year.

Posted by: hpmoon | March 8, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

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