14 februar 2012

A never-ending newspaper

25 JANUARY 2012, the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende launched a new iPad app, accompanied by a lot of marketing buzzwords. ”The only serious challenger to the printed newspaper” and ”and ambitious app which ties together all of Berlingske in one playful and innovative universe” … those were some of the words with which the publisher presented the new app.

AMBITIOUS IS INDEED A FITTING DESCRIPTION. ”Berlingske for iPad” was developed with far more than the circ 100,000 Copenhagen newspaper in mind; the plan is to use it as a prototype for tablet apps within the entire Mecom corporation. And it was not conceived to be just the electronic version of your printed paper – it combines print and web. Throughout the day, the app is updated with news from the Berlingske website, and around midnight, the contents of the morning paper will be added to the publication.

Appealing as it may sound, this concept has a built-in conflict. The linear structure of the app, with a frontpage (actually you’ll get five different frontpages, something to which I shall come back) and a number of sections, suggests that it should be read from the beginning to the end – following the ever more prevalent tablet reading pattern: Swipe down to finish the story, swipe right to carry on to the next one. However, as stories are being swapped all the time, you will never really feel that you are ”done”. Moreover, you might lose track of which stories you have read and which ones you haven’t.

THE DESIGN DOES NOT REALLY HELP. The app presents itself as one long series of only subtly prioritized refers, consisting of a short headline plus (in most cases) a small photograph half-hidden by the headline and its shaded background. This means you’ll often have to guess what the story is about. There are no subheads to help you, no information of whether this is a news article, a column, an analysis, or whatever; nothing to signal if it is a short or a long text; and the type size of topic & date is so small only very sharp-sighted people will have a chance to read it.

In many ways, the new app feels like a beta version. News transferral from the website is pretty clunky: Lots of stories come with only a headline and a picture, or a headline and an intro. Only one line of text is allocated for captions, and as they are often longer, readers will have to imagine the last part. Bylines are blue which makes them look like links, which they are not. There is no place for comments, no social functions, and no search field.

BERLINGSKE FOR iPAD does have a number of interesting personalization options which could be the strongest reason for choosing this way to enter the Berlingske universe.
First of all, the user gets five frontpage alternatives to choose from, such as ”News overview”, ”My frontpage”, etc.
Besides that, tags can be ”plussed” if you wish to see how your favourite stories develop or if there is any news on your chosen topics (unfortunately, here’s one more feature which appears to be very beta; to make it genuinely useful, tagging will have to be done much more consistently).
Finally, you can influence the page hierarchy and, to some extent, decide which topics get top priority. To operate this, you push buttons that vibrate just like iPad icons – but which look more like the plastic buttons on a toy phone and can be dragged to the strangest places, even out of the screen.

HERE, AS WELL AS IN THE PAGE ARCHITECTURE (with navigation elements distributed across the screen in a slightly disorganized way), I miss the ”neatness” which we have learned to expect from the iPad format. On the other hand, the app is clearly a member of the Berlingske ”family”, with typography and colour quite similar to the web and print editions.

To Berlingske subscribers, access is free. New users will have to pay 299 DKK (40 euro) a month after a 30-day trial period. As the vast majority of the contents of this app comes from Berlingske’s website, the price policy might be a forewarning of a B.dk paywall in the not-so-distant future.

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