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Post launches iPad app; Post columnist reviews it (semi-favorably)

By Rob Pegoraro

The Washington Post has an iPad app, and it's much better than the iPhone program I panned in March.

That's good, inasmuch as I work here and want my employer to do well.

But the Post app -- coming months after the iPad debuts of such other newspapers as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today -- lacks some obvious features. That's not so good.

washpost_ipad_local.png

The new iPad app announced this morning, unlike our iPhone app, is free to download. But starting in mid-February, print subscribers will have to pay 99 cents a month; everybody else will be charged $3.99 a month. Advertising consists of one banner at the bottom of the page; in landscape mode, you may see a second spot in the top-right corner.

The Post app features a clean, column-based layout that, like the print edition, offers a sense of the relative importance of a story and looks and feels far more like an electronic version of the Post than our mobile site or our iPhone app. Another reason why: Headlines appear in the Post's Bodoni font (or something close to it), and the body type isn't far off from the unmemorable Scotch Roman font the Post adopted last year.

The app lacks the print edition's comics and crossword puzzles. It appears to include most stories from the paper and our site, but I can't say how many; this software lacks a search function. Nor can you do much browsing once you hit one of the app's 11 section headings, as individual story pages only offer a few pointers to related content in landscape mode and none in portrait.

Links within stories work, opening in a browser window inside the app instead of in the iPad's Safari browser. This smart workaround for the iPad's current lack of multitasking offers the added benefit (to us) of keeping you in the program.

Few stories, however, feature photos or graphics. And since the Post's videos run on Adobe Flash--a format Apple has essentially banned from its mobile devices--you can only view clips that have been repackaged into the app's multimedia player. On any other story, such as Cecilia Kang's blog post from this morning, an "Object cannot be displayed" error appears in place of the video. I'm told we'll be fixing this early next year.

The Post's app doesn't show reader comments or let you add your own. Instead, it invites you to talk about a story by sharing a link on Twitter or Facebook----a distanced approach to reader engagement. An update posted on Facebook from the program had extraneous slashes stuck before quotation marks.

Two features at the bottom of the app's screen set this program apart from the strikingly similar app of the New York Times and those of other newspapers--even if both look underdone.

One, "Live Topics," presents stories from the Post and elsewhere on a handful of topics--today's changing menu has included Keith Olbermann's reinstatement, Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips' firing and President Obama's visit to India--and pairs them with Twitter and Facebook feedback on those issues. Most Twitter comments are pulled in automatically by a third-party service, Sulia (resulting in some irrelevant tweets), while the Facebook input comes from the Post's Facebook page. You can comment on these comments from within Live Topics.

The second interesting feature, a "Read Later" function, lets you save individual stories for offline reading. But it needs to work on entire sections or a full day's edition to appeal to the iPad users I often see on planes.

This app leaves out an intriguing option debuted by the Post on the free DC Rider app this summer: displaying stories relevant to your location.

Disclaimer: If the frequent uses of "us" and "we" didn't make it obvious enough, I'm a Post employee, not a detached observer. Of course I talk to people here about our mobile efforts--do you really think I tell my bosses to go away when they ask for my input? And since I have one such conversation scheduled for later this week, I can close this post by asking: What requests or comments would you like me to share then?

By Rob Pegoraro  | November 8, 2010; 8:25 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture, Mobile, The business we have chosen  
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Comments

when will see a washington post or faster forward android app?

Posted by: bryandc | November 8, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Well, first I read this in the iPad app, but there was no way to comment or send you an email to answer your question.

So now I'm on the webpage using an iPad. And like all the news iPhone & iPad apps I've used the website is better.

The app better improve substantially by February if they expect people to pay $4 a month for it (Or get Exon to foot another few months - though I am uneasy that such an evil company with major political interests is the sole advertisers. Any decent news organization should publish an article that angers them before February. What happens if they pull their sponsorship?)

On the web I can search ( how can anyone create an app in 2010 without search?) and there isn't just today's paper (you'd think given something important happened last Tuesday, there would be at least a week's archive).

There should be an easy way to access all blogs.

The live topics page is a mess. Sulia is useless. You should get an editor to curate the best from Twitter. or at least put together twitter lists on each featured topic

There is much more, but I'm running of space.

You'd think the iPad app would use a lot more photos much better. And the iPhone has been around since 2007, why isn't every video you make available in a format I can watch in addition to flash?

Posted by: srhodes1 | November 8, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

Count the number of stories in a section of the newspaper -- Metro, say -- and the number of stories in the corresponding section of the app. The app has a small fraction. Today there are nine "local" stories, for example in the app. I'd pay for it, if it had all the content from the paper. But it isn't even close.

Posted by: AllenDulles | November 8, 2010 10:45 PM | Report abuse

I've given up on the Washington Post being a leader in anything electronic (you'd think they could at least capitalize on the numerous major sports teams in our area, yet their Sports web page remains a garbage pit) .. but I figured they could at least copy well.

Apparently not.

Rather than merge the print into the web groups, the Post should have done the opposite. At least the print side of the house could organize a page, edit it and fill it with complete thoughts.

Basically rudderless. Thank god for the net.

Posted by: tslats | November 8, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

The Post is obviously not a tech company. The mobile web site is a joke (and the links to view full web site don't work). There's no communication when you write for help (the last time I tried the "contact us" link didn't work), the iPhone app is horrible and the iPad app is only slightly better. $3.99 a month? They think people will pay that? Can I have whatever they're smoking?

Posted by: themantoyou | November 8, 2010 11:59 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I have comments for your bosses:

1. Have they given up on the iPhone app? Version 1.1.2? After 8 months? They should read recent comments in the iPhone app store.

2. The mobile web site is buggy in Safari. Comments sometimes don't work. Going to the full site often reverts to the mobile site within a couple of clicks.

3. Video generally on the Post web site is the pits. Won't play, won't continue after the ad, stops and skips -- this is with a full browser on a PC, let alone on the iPhone. Can't you just put video on YouTube -- something that works all the time -- and embed that?

4. The most recent content by you and Cecelia is too hard to find, in my experience. Clicking through takes too many clicks. Searching brings up too many choices. You just have to pick something, and hope it is close enough to get a sidebar that has a list of the most recent posts, and then you can find the most recent one. I like to read your columns but I truly dread the navigation process.

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Posted by: abulaw | November 9, 2010 4:49 AM | Report abuse

I'm reading this at the WaPo website on my iPad. Just learned about the app minutes ago. What irks me most using the website is that neither videos nor comments work on the iPad. The comment loading circle just spends endlessly after commenting. You can't see your comment or other comments without going to the website on a computer later. Since many readers who do not live in the WaPo circulation area will not pay for the iPad in 2011, regular website access on mobile devices needs to be improved. It does make a difference. Given a choice between a story on the same topic in Google News at the NYT and the WaPo sites, I choose the former because I can watch the videos and read the comments.

I will download the new iPad app and try it out.

Posted by: query0 | November 9, 2010 6:27 AM | Report abuse

"The app lacks the print edition's comics "
Is the Post trying to lose thei nterest of readers?

Posted by: wiredog | November 9, 2010 7:32 AM | Report abuse

Hi Rob ... I agree with each point you made ... I used the app for an hour on my iPad and went back to the web version, which I think is great ... The SkyFire browser for iPad works okay for viewing Flash video ... I will not use the WP app anymore even if it remains free ... I would be willing to pay a fair price for the Post web version ... And a fair price would be significantly less than the print version, as the cost of the electronic version is much less ... Al

Posted by: AlKube | November 9, 2010 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Rob - I would gladly pay a reasonable price for the Post's Ipad app with only 2, maybe 3, critical conditions. #1 it must be downloadable for off-line viewing. Useless w/out this. Also must have all the print edition's news content. Search feature is important, but not critical. WSJ's Ipad app is your model for this, but I refuse to pay Rupert Murdoch's ridiculous pricing, especially when I'm already paying for the content as a print and online subscriber. I'd much rather get the news from the Post, even though the paper is not what it used to be.

Posted by: badger78 | November 9, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse

If the Post wants to get it right I suggest they follow the lead of "The Wall Street Journal ". I subscribe to the Journal's iPad edition and as far as I'm concerned it's the gold standard for media apps. After using the Post iPad app for a few hours I find that it isn't even as useful as the (free) website and certainly doesn't justify a $3.99/month fee.

Posted by: kettke1 | November 9, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

When will the Post launch an Android app?

Posted by: subwayguy | November 9, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

....in other words....it ain't worth it. Period!

Posted by: analyst72 | November 9, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

It crashed. Twice this morning when I tried to view a video.

Sigh.

Posted by: CafeBeouf | November 9, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I already pay the Post's subscription fee for the print edition - the price of which has gone up about 50% over the past year or so.
If they think I'm going to pay, even a paltry 99 cents, starting in February, then they're smoking dope. I won't even download the app. For my dose of liberal views for the day, I'll stick to the NY Times.

Posted by: Tex4 | November 9, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

With Google News and it's ability to provide locale specific content, why would any use ANY News service that you have to pay for? And if you MUST charge people, shouldn't those of us who are ALREADY paying for the content but having it delivered by hand and on paper receive a FREE copy electronically? It's a slap in the face that I write a check to the Post to have it delivered to my doorstep only to have them ask for MORE money to shuffle the copy around a bit, export it to a PDF format and spit it out electronically....it's insulting really...

Posted by: HeyYou1 | November 9, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I used the ipad app this morning for about an hour. My first impression is that there seems to be a lack of 'flow' or blend of multimedia material for any particular story and the overall feel of the app is 'awkward'.

NPR's ipad app sets up a good example of the 'flow' aspect. Pull up any story and the display shows you the story with interactive pictures and audio links. The WaPo interface feels clunky.

Posted by: SpecTP | November 9, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Of course I wish you lots of luck with it.

However, it "lacks a search function" That's truly astonishing.

Posted by: Hopeful9 | November 9, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I read through all the comments so far and am amazed how bitter many of them are. I agree that the app lacks certain functionality. And the content is limited. But keep in mind that this is version #1. I suspect,and would hope, that this initial FREE offering will change dramatically as they get closer to paid subscription. Remember, the NYT app for the Ipad only contained limited content until recently and soon they will begin charging a subscription fee. For those of us outside the DC area, the Wash Post has NEVER been available except on the web. A useful, IPAD edition would be well worth paying for in my case. I cant wait for the improvements - and if they don't come, I won't buy.

Posted by: jayground1 | November 9, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Not interested in the technical detail. Refuse to spend time on an app that in the future will CHARGE PRINT SUBSCRIBERS. The WPost is, of course, not the only publication to charge online or on mobile even if you already subscribe, but I think it's very bad from.

Posted by: seller11 | November 9, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I doubt I'll be downloading this app - now or later - not because I have an issue with the quality of the app, but rather the quality of the information it displays. I have subscribed to the Post for nearly 20 years, and over that period I have witness the erosion in the quality of the reporting. From unintended spoonerisms to typos and excursions away from standard grammar and syntax, quality writing has been in steady decline. Blatantly partisan views are no longer confined to the OpEd page, but appear on the front page above the fold, sometime coyly labeled "Analysis", sometimes not.

Posted by: jlm656 | November 9, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

No comics or puzzles! It's not worth it without those. I read news in the am and save puzzles and comics for evening relaxation. I was so disappointed to find that they wouldn't load on mu iPhone or iPad.

And I agree...please, just utube the videos.

Posted by: mollytjm | November 9, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I like and read the Post. I buy the hard copy a couple of times a week at times and places the work for me. I also read on-line via iMac/Firefox and sometimes via iPhone and soon via iPad. Sorry for the ramble but my 2 points are 1) I like to get to Post content via a wide variety of delivery paths and 2) since I value the content I am willing to pay for on-line access but I would want to only pay once for all platforms I use (Web browser, iPhone, Ipad). I am OK if the initial apps have weaknesses as long as they get better over time.

Posted by: AdamsMorganTom | November 9, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

The absence of any Android support is ridiculous. While I enjoy the Post, I only read NYTimes or USA Today when on my phone.

Posted by: Corn_Laden | November 10, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I didn't realize that the IPAD had anything to do with the Android operating system! ;-)

Posted by: jayground1 | November 10, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I've spent about 12 hours with the application now. Over the past 2 years, I've moved away from WP and to NYT online for a variety of reasons and it looks like with this app, the trend will continue. Some comparisons:
NYT ipad app is much much cleaner and reads more like the print edition than the WP app. Neither has a search feature. The NYT app plays video. The space at the bottom is horrible. The so called live topics combined with the ads take up too much space and clutter up the experience. The NYT app has adds as well but the bottom is proportional to the rest of the page and takes up minimal space. In other words, the ads, which I understand are necessary for you guys, are not so obtrusive as to hinder the reading experience. Additionally, with the NYT app, the navigation at the bottom disappears with a tap on the screen. Not so with the WP app. There's only the option to expand or collapse. And while we're at it, lose the masthead at the top. We know we're reading the Washington Post, we don't need to be reminded of it on every single article. It's just taking up more valuable reading real estate. I do appreciate the Read Later feature, but that's a feature that has come to be expected on mobile news apps these days.

A definite improvement over the iPhone app, but needs lots of work before I would even consider paying for this instead just browsing to the site on Safari.

Posted by: kwbarrett_jr | November 10, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Gee, JayGround1, you make a point! Sort of a dull and sarcastic point to be sure, but a point. The real point is why isn't there an Android app on the horizon when the Android system has just passed the iPhone OS in new sales and the first Android tablet (of many) became available....well, today (the Galaxy Tab). Every single one of the major phone carriers will offer it within days. These Android tablets will be fast, offer multi-tasking now, support Adobe Flash now, and they use an open system that positively invites the writing of custom apps to best serve the users. WaPo can surely find a free-lance code writer to build a custom Android app addressing every one of the shortcomings cited above. If you own an iPad already, I truly hope this app is improved for you. If you are not soul-bound to "Big Apple", the market is now offering you (and the rest of us) some interesting alternatives. Come on, Washington Post, show your leadership and bring out a kick-@$$ Android Phone/Tablet app.

Posted by: Yarbroughz | November 10, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Nine "world" stories, three of which are really just US news stories posing as international news. No comics. No archives. NO CAROLYN HAX.

I would not pay for this.

Posted by: Blurgle | November 10, 2010 10:24 PM | Report abuse

The iPad app is an OK first start. I really wish I could see reader comments in either Mobile Safari or the iPad app. They don't seem to be working in either. I'm an Android fan too but the comments about not having an Android app are annoying and off-topic.

Posted by: tj722 | November 10, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

They've gotta show some love to the print subscribers...free mobile subscriptions.

Beyond that, they need to dump a lot more time and money into their mobile development.

I want full access to everything that's in the print version. I'd pay the same price as a print subscription. Call it a paperless option. But I want everything invaliding the comics. And the post magazine.

Search too. Really everything you said, rob. But I don't care about Twitter and facebook. I just want access. I'd even pay for it

Posted by: crs-one | November 14, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

They've gotta show some love to the print subscribers...free mobile subscriptions.

Beyond that, they need to dump a lot more time and money into their mobile development.

I want full access to everything that's in the print version. I'd pay the same price as a print subscription. Call it a paperless option. But I want everything invaliding the comics. And the post magazine.

Search too. Really everything you said, rob. But I don't care about Twitter and facebook. I just want access. I'd even pay for it

Posted by: crs-one | November 14, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

*including. Not invaliding

Posted by: crs-one | November 14, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

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