Review: The New York Times iPhone vs. AP Mobile News Network

by Jason Preston on July 11, 2008

I like getting news on my iPhone. I’ve made a habit of checking the New York Times web site on a regular basis, and I was excited to find out that both the AP and the New York Times are sporting applications built for the iPhone.

As I’ve said before, I think that mobile devices are going to experience some massive growth as an interface for news, and it may eventually end up being more popular than the computer.

And as Bill Gates has noted before, in a new, volume-based market the winners are the ones who grab the largest market share first. Which is why the New York Times is going to do so well when the money catches up to the new technology – they’ve used this opportunity to make themselves a leading global news brand.

But this is all beside the point.

Of the two mobile news apps, I like the New York Times app better, but the similarities between the two far outnumber the differences. They both present four basic news categories at the bottom of the screen, with a “more” selector where you can browse the more extended list (book review to dining & wine).

It’s also good that the New York Times, unlike the AP app, is displaying ads against each of their articles. I don’t think they have the format right yet (it’s a hover bar that takes up too many pixels and doesn’t ever move off the screen), but I’m glad that they’re finding a way to monetize the platform given that they probably can’t get away with charging for the app itself.

I think that more and more newspapers are going to need to reach consumers wherever the consumer wants to be, rather than forcing them back to paper or even the web site. For example, I read Pogue’s Posts in a browser instead of my RSS reader (and consequently less frequently) because they clip the posts. We’re moving towards full feeds with ads in them.

A few features that are missing from the New York Times app that seem obvious to me are search and share functions. It should be braindead simple for me to read an article I like and e-mail it to a friend. I can do that if I’m browsing the full web version, why isn’t that built into the app?

For a 1.0 release, it’s a good effort. The local app does a lot to make the content more readable and load more quickly (I’m still on EDGE with the first gen iPhone), which makes for a better news reading experience overall. With a little tweaking, it could come to be my mobile interface to news.

Update: The New York Times has already released an upgrade to their app that shrinks the size of the ad placed in their stories.

The headlines are strangely static, though. Given how the list of headlines is relatively short, I’d expect more updates. It’s almost as if they’re putting their daily headlines into a daily iPhone list, which is no good.