Washington Post iPad app due by year’s end: Slate-ish layout someday?

imageIf I ruled the world and the Washington Post, you would have been able to read the paper on a genuine iPad app months ago.

But fear not—either about my ruling the world or about the lack of a Post iPad app. The paper will release an iPad edition “before the end of the year,” according to Managing Editor Raju Narisetti.

Ahead are ten app-related thoughts for the Post and other dailies, including the idea of a row-based layout borrowed from the NPR and Slate apps. The Post app is probably too far along for such a major change. But might this be something to ponder for the future if it isn’t already on the way? By gliding your fingers over the screen, couldn’t you browse more efficiently with a structured, row-based approach than with the hodgepodge of a more conventional layout?

For now the Post is hardly winning the global iPad wars within newspaperdom. A predecessor of the New York Times app, although far from a complete version of the paper, appeared in April. And the current Times app is the whole paper more or less.

imageNow here are my “musts” and “recs” for the app catch-up crew at the Post, as well as for others:

1. Easy navigation mixed with speed (must). The latest New York Times iPad app at least does a better job at both than the more convoluted Wall Street Journal app, which still comes across as too much like an old-fashioned paper newspaper. Same for the cleverly designed USA Today iPad app, also superior to the WSJ’s.

2. Good offline reading capabilities, with the ability to go back a few days (must).

3. The ability to change both the sizes and styles of the fonts (must). I’d especially like a choice of bolder fonts, which I find easier to read. If at some point the Post app can do text to speech and organize the results into a reader-customized “newscast,” then so much the better for commuters and exercisers and the visually impaired.

4. Well-integrated multimedia, blended in with text stores, not just farmed out to a video ghetto (must).

5. A powerful keyword-based search feature, with the ability to limit searches by days or ranges of dates (must). The search feature might also include guided topic tags. Ideally the app would let readers search Washington’s oldest daily back to its beginnings in 1877. Talk about ways to help strengthen the Post as a community and national institution and impart a feeling of continuity! I’d hope the Post would not charge for all those back years, but this feature would be good to have even for a fee, just so the costs was reasonable.

6. The ability to easily email an entire article to your desktop for future reference or send it over to Instapaper, not just share the Web address (rec). This might be among the goodies in paid version of the app, without the need for a full-fledged pay wall. Come on, Post—you want to build relationships with your readers and woo potential subscribers. Don’t be piggish like a certain UK paper and warn readers against e-mailings. Just include some advertising customized for the article. And subscription forms.

image 7. Consideration of a departure from standard online newspaper layout—what the Post’s corporate brethern over at Slate Magazine did, in adopting a navigation scheme similar to National Public Radio’s, which itself reflects iPaddish influences (rec).

Slate’s stories appear within rows built around topic categories such as “Politics,” “Art,” and “Life” (not all the rows are visible here). The Post might include rows for the national, metro, business, opinion, the Style section and so on.

Within “Settings,” perhaps the users of the Post’s iPad app could customize the order in which the rows appeared. They might also be able to change the order of the stories within the rows by time or by level of importance as determined by editors. Or how about other factors such as geographical proximity?

Maybe a popup tool would allow to readers select the groups of rows they saw. Within metro, you could choose your suburb or even neighborhood. You could promote your neighbood, etc., to the starting view within the Post iPad app if you wanted.

Yes, this row-oriented approach would differ from the basic Times nav scheme. But it’s something to consider.

To squeeze in more stories, the panels in the rows could be slightly smaller than NPR and Slate’s, but they could still be colorfully illustrated with photos and subtopic-related icons.

For a look at a customization mechanism, check out the latest version of the panel-oriented Pulse newsreader app, although I’d hope that the Post could simplify the interface still more.

Some panels could be ads customized for readers based on their reading patterns. In fact, certain panels could include text links for more than one ad—in addition to there being advertisements at the tops or bottoms of the pages.

Both on the Web and within the iPad apps, I hate the disruptive full-page ads on topics unrelated to my interests, and a targeted approach would greatly boost my chances of actually buying the advertised goods and services.

Back to extras. The Post might also think about a premium version of the app with either fewer ads or no ads at all within the panels or elsewhere.

8. More interactivity than typical iPad apps for newspapers offer, so that, within the Post app, I could write a letter to the editor or add a comment (a must) or participate in the parsing of a government document posted for reader analysis. Yes, yes, comments should appear, not just articles. Same for blogs and their comments.

9. A full Post in every other respect—or at least to the maximum extent possible (must). That should include a customizable hyperlocal section, as well as built-in tools through which citizens could communicate with city council members and other public officials. For commercial reasons, not just civic ones, newspapers have an interest in a more participatory electorate. More reason to keep up with the news!

10. Use of the same “tool” philosophy in other sections of the iPad app—also in line with #7, calling for a decent amount of interactivity (must).

Needlesss to say, what applies to the iPad could basically apply to other tablet platforms. And who knows? Could a row-based Post app also make it to the desktop, with mouse “swipes” used to “pull” the panels within the rows. Hmm. I wonder what might be possible on both tablets and desktops with future versions of standards-compliant Web technology.

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David Rothman

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