Faster Forward: Reviewing The Post's iPad app

By Rob Pegoraro
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 6:33 AM

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.

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?

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