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An App I Like - The Times & The Sunday Times

The Times app has allowed lapsed print subscriber Jamie Jouning to rediscover the joys of his favourite newspaper and he doesn’t mind paying for the privilege.

By Jamie Jouning

If, like me, you have been reading the same daily and Sunday newspaper for the best part of 25 years, you are almost certain to have adopted your own, curiously idiosyncratic, reading habits. Unsurprisingly perhaps, I always start with the front page, quickly scanning the headlines, only diving into a main feature if something really grabs my attention. It’s then straight to the back pages for my morning fix of sports news or now, more pertinently perhaps, sports reporting. It’s then back to the front of the paper to start my journey through the main book, pausing occasionally on standout features and / or standout columnists, before finishing with the business pages. The Sunday routine is even more ritualistic. Sport first, Main News second, then News Review, Business, Style, Culture and the magazine; always in this order, no deviations, no erroneous sections, no surprises. What about Saturday? Strangely, I opt out of news on Saturdays, a direct cause and effect of playing football or cricket on most Saturdays of my adult life, rendering newspaper consumption an indulgence too many.

Such singular habits have of course been forged in the physical world of page turning, paper rustling, ink on your fingers, hard copy print. Permanent migration to a digital-only edition would have been unlikely 18 months ago, implausible three years ago and utterly unthinkable anytime before that. My own personal journey started more by chance than by calculated intent. In truth, the switch happened due to sheer laziness on my part. Having always taken The Times at work and enjoyed reading it with breakfast at my desk, an earlier start time meant that I often beat the paper to my office. The ease of collection from the post room on my way up to the sixth floor was replaced by a cat and mouse game of guess-the-delivery-time, often involving fruitless carriages up and down the back lift while my coffee went cold. I soon stopped bothering to collect it at all and when the paper did eventually arrive, the day had started in earnest and time for a languorous peruse of the headlines long since expired.

And so I cancelled my print subscription and opted instead for what was then, three years ago, the relatively new world of digital delivery, straight to my iPad. The Times was back in my life but it was a different experience and not always a good one. The navigation was clunky, the design confused, the download times frustratingly slow. As a fellow print publisher, I had some empathy – we were working with the same challenges, hitting the same brick walls, fighting hard to understand how best to utilise the new technology that had arrived unannounced and unabashed into our daily lives. But that empathy soon disappeared when the app crashed repeatedly or it stubbornly refused to download when I was abroad.

Much improved

Roll on three years and the experience has improved considerably. It is not flawless, very few news apps are; but as a news / op ed delivery vehicle, I believe it to be a good one. Let’s start with the all important consumer point of entry. Getting your audience to understand the available packages and, more pertinently perhaps, the offer best suited to their own personal consumption habits is absolutely critical. The Times does this well, with a clearly laid out and intuitive subscription landing page detailing everything that is available, and guiding consumer choice in a simple, practical manner. I made up my mind pretty quickly and plumped for the ‘Digital Only Pack’ giving me seven-day access to content across tablet, smartphone and website.

Like most consumers in today’s hectic, full throttle digital world, access on a single platform is simply not good enough. Content needs to be available wherever the consumer wants to consume it and for me, that’s on my computer at work, on my iPad and on my smartphone. I dip in and out all day, jumping from one device to the other as dictated by my diary. This peripatetic behaviour makes the consistency of design all the more crucial – there is nothing more irritating than starting a feature on one device, only for the same feature to disappear without trace on another. The reading experience is disjointed enough as it is, so it really is imperative that the app allows you to switch between platforms effortlessly.

The navigation is concise and logical, three simple options including a ‘live news’ button, which goes some way towards refuting suggestions that newspapers are irrelevant in an always-on digital age. The download times have improved immeasurably, while the wheel at the foot of the page indicating the point at which all of the associated images have rendered successfully, is a sensible sop to the customer journey. The relatively recent Times Sport app for smartphone is a welcome addition for a self-confessed sports nut and gives me straightforward access in a simple newsfeed delivery system. The insertion of relevant video footage is of course nothing new but the app gets the balance about right, providing useful and interesting video when relevant, without adversely impacting the rhythm and flow of the main paper. Constant push notifications prompting you to watch yet another English batsman get out are a little irritating, but only perhaps because the notifications tend to arrive in such congested batches!

The Times / Sunday Times app is by no means perfect - it is still prone to freezing and the Newsstand to app experience is often erratic. But all that said, for an avid reader who likes nothing more than spending time with columnists of the calibre of Matthew Parris, Caitlin Moran, Rod Liddle, Mike Atherton, Giles Coren, India Knight, Simon Barnes, Hugo Rifkind et al, then this app fits the bill rather nicely. I noticed a lot of the less than favourable reviews harping on about price. As a fellow publisher of quality content, I have zero sympathy for this particular line of criticism. Good content takes a great deal of talent, time, money and effort to create. If you’re not willing to pay a premium, then there’s plenty of badly written blogs and poorly designed websites out there for your enjoyment and you won’t have to pay a penny.

The Times & The Sunday Times can be downloaded from the App Store.