The Guardian online receives an audience of around 37 million people per month, second only to the New York Times for amount of online readers of a printed paper, according to the BBC. And with some 1.5 million iPhone 4s sold on the first day alone, news applications are sure to see an increase in sales. Presently, at $3.99, it sits at number 17 of the top paid news appslications in the US store. So is it worth it?
I'm all about making the content centre-stage for news applications. That means less frills, more visible articles and less loading times. The Guardian does things a little differently. Around one-fifth of the screen is taken up by the top menu bar, meaning there's less room for article content. However, the bar is not entirely redundant - with three well integrated features, one of which certainly wasn't expected.
Firstly, a search that is more advanced than its rivals' equivalent. Options to choose between searching topics, sections and contributors are a welcome change, and the proper iPhone integration and Apple-esque design make it appear solid and well-built. It is. Secondly, an "edit home" section. The Guardian have done away with the typical horizontal-scrolling bar seen in CNN, FT Mobile, Washington Post and many others (a scrolling bar that I advocate strongly for news). Instead, they have followed the more traditional category-ordering method. Simply select which section you read the most, and drag it to top. Order the categories in your own personal preference. This does mean a bit more scrolling, but the application limits the number of stories per section (you choose anywhere from one to five) and offers a view all tab for each category.
The third feature is something that, in all of the news applications I've looked at, I've never seen. Trending news. Colour-coded from red (trending significantly) to yellow (trending a little), a list of all the trending news is presented. The trends are determined by the categories each author attaches to their publication. A nice idea to spruce up an application and see what's getting the most coverage. The only trouble with it is that whenever you tap "back" after following a trending news item, it takes you back to the latest news rather than the trending news.
The award-winning articles are not let down by the interface either. The font is paper-esque, and can be adjusted in size. Articles can be e-mailed or sent to Facebook and Twitter, and can be added to a list of personalized favourites. High quality, low-size images make for refreshing viewing, and a list of related subjects means there's always something more to read. The bottom menu bar is adjustable with some twenty options to choose from (see screenshots attached), including The Guardian Galleries. There's also an offline-reading option where it'll download the content you want - simply choose the sections - meaning no data is used thereafter. Great for reading material where you know there won't be reception, or for travel.
Audio podcasts are available to listen and download. Unfortunately, audio sections can't be added to the bottom menu-bar, where text-based content is given precedence.
The only real drawback is general sluggishness, probably due to the higher-than-average image content. On an iPhone 3G scrolling is noticeably jerky, but it's smooth sailing on an iPhone 4. An option to turn off all images, at least from the front page, would solve this problem.
So is it worth $3.99? That's down to personal taste. Certain papers write certain articles in a certain way. If you like the content on the web page, then there should be nothing stopping you. Although I favour the design of other news applications, there's something very official and inviting about The Guardian app. Something that Apple themselves have perfected.