Last week saw the release of the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s iPad app, which we thought rated a quick mention here. The app basically aspires to mimic the reading experience of print, albeit with a few multimedia bells-and-whistles (slideshows, video, audio) added in. If you like the reporting and commentary at the Chronicle, but don’t want inky hands, this makes for a nice experience.
Unfortunately, the biggest weak point in this version of the app is the thing that you see first: The issues are big, and it takes a remarkably long time, even over wifi, to load them. Loading each issue is an all or nothing enterprise: either the issue is there in its entirety to be read, or it’s not available at all, so you are left waiting. The Review has to be loaded separately, too, so every week it’s two different downloads. The app does provide a few RSS feeds from the site (although not ProfHacker :-) which can be read while individual issues are downloading, but presumably those are already in your RSS reader. In fairness, the problem of slow load times isn’t unique to the Chronicle‘s app, of course. John Gruber had noted this at the launch of the Daily News app:
But every iPad app has to deal with this limitation, and there are plenty of them, like Flipboard, that manage to let you start reading something new just a few seconds after launching the app. Why wait for The Daily when you can open Mobile Safari and see the home page for any of your favorite news sites in 10 seconds? The point of native apps is to provide a better experience than websites can offer. Watching a splash screen rotate a “Loading…” spinner for 80 seconds isn’t it.
Load times for both the Chronicle and the Review were well north of three minutes–and if you switch to another app, the download pauses. In this respect, the app reminds me of the Marvel & DC apps, which are fun to read on but which are glacially slow to load issues–so slow, in fact, that I often skip it. On the other hand, unlike
the @*%!# New York Times app some other apps in this genre, the Chronicle version doesn’t seem crash-prone.
Content from the Chronicle is free to anyone with a print or digital subscription–that is to say, access to the content through the iPad app is included in the cost of that subscription. The archives aren’t (yet?) available in this format, but there is access to the two most recent issues (and presumably more, going forward).
Once you’ve loaded the issue, navigation is simple: swiping left and right moves you from story to story, and up and down moves you within the story. Tap a multimedia icon to play available resources. Here’s what a page looks like:
Here’s a screenshot of another page, chosen completely at random.
The help screen gives a sense of what you can do with the app:
Reading the Chronicle of Higher Education in the iPad app is exactly like reading the print edition, for better and for worse. I am old enough to appreciate the focused editorial presentation of one article at a time, and the existence of the app makes it about 500 times more likely that I’ll read it at breakfast or lunch, especially if load times improve. And once it’s loaded, you can of course read it without an internet connection–you can even watch the multimedia elements when you’re offline. On the other hand, just as with print, you can’t resize text or photos. (Pinch-to-zoom doesn’t work.) There are no functional URLs in the app. You can’t copy-and-paste. (Tapping the screen invokes navigation, not the iOS text-selection loupe.) You can’t see related links, or comments–and you certainly can’t add comments, or post to social media sites. (Actually, the biggest difference between reading the Chronicle in this format and any other is that it would be hard to cite from: unlike the print edition, there aren’t page numbers, and unlike the web edition, there aren’t obvious article-specific URLs.)
All in all, I suspect that this app *will* get me to read more of the Chronicle‘s content, although I wish that it provided more interactivity, and a fuller range of access to the Chronicle‘s blogs.
Disclosure: No ProfHacker writers participated in the design or testing of this app, nor were we required to cover it.
Click any image for larger versions. All the screenshots are Creative-Commons licensed.