Usability: 25/40 Funtionality: 20/30 Visual Design: 8/20 Originality: 0/10 TOTAL: 53/100 The iPhone, together with the iPad, has become one of the preferred platforms to read news on, taking into account the wide range of both free and paid apps available in the App Store. The Independent is one of the newspapers giving access to their news with a free app for the iPhone. The app has been developed using a new platform called Newdesk, developed by Missing Ink Studios to "create branded iPhone apps constantly updated with text, audio or video content and driven by RSS and XML feeds". All this sounds great, but we believe the app (and possibly the platform) is not currently up to the high standards set by other newspapers.
The app feels "not quite right" as soon as we launch it. The main screen shows a group of news categories arranged in a grid of ambiguous icons and labels. Categories presented as a grid (not even ordered alphabetically) are much harder to scan than a list. It also forces us to tap on each of the categories to see the news, instead of presenting the latest news straightaway after launching the app. Also, every time we launch the app, news for all the categories is downloaded, slowing down the app and rocketing the data consumption. Finally, bookmarks can only be accessed from the main screen, and include a button with no clear purpose that makes the app crash when it is pressed.
News articles under each category are arranged in a list, but headings in each row do not always use space properly, leaving too much whitespace sometimes or cramming in too much information. When we come to read an article we find that the text is quite small. This can be changed, but it shows that the app was not fully designed for small screens. Landscape mode for listing articles and reading works randomly, and when it does work, only half the screen is actually used to present content, with the other half used to show the title bar, an information bar, a toolbar and ads! It is also not possible to hide these elements the same way we can in The New York Times' app, so reading feels like looking through a keyhole.
The Independent's iPhone app can be seen as a well-intentioned attempt to provide news for free on the move, but it struggles on several fronts. The app could be better designed, it has slow performance, crashes and provides a reading experience that is not particularly satisfying. All this becomes a hindrance to enjoying The Independent's quality articles on the iPhone. Furthermore, it affects the perception of the newspaper amongst the large user group the iPhone has. A good news app would not only improve a newspaper's image, but would attract new readers (and potential customers) who are looking for an easy way to follow news through their mobile phone. The New York Times and The Economist are good examples of finely crafted apps that people eventually choose over others because of their fuss-free, beautiful interface and quality content. Having quality content already, we would recommend The Independent start a renovation of their app to facilitate access to their content and to attract new readers looking for a free, reliable newspaper app.