October 18, 2010, 8:02 AM — Last week the very limited New York Times Editor's Choice iPad app was updated and transformed into an new app simply called NYTimes. The difference is like night and day. Instead of just a few articles from the paper, it now offers the full content of the print version. Better still, for the remainder of this year it's free. (You do need a free NY Times account to access much of the content; if you have an account for the website it'll work in the app.)
Regular readers may recall that I gave Barnes & Nobles NY Times subscription (via its Nook app) a test-run last July and found it somewhat lacking. While the content was all there, much was lost in the normalization of the layouts. Additionally there was the step of having to download the latest issue before reading.
For me the litmus test of reading a digital paper is always the Sunday edition, with all the extras that come with it. The new NYTimes app delivers the Sunday Times very nicely. All the extra content is included plus some things you won't get in the dead tree version, like slideshows of images and a smattering of video. Unlike the Nook version, each article is tagged so you know what it is (if the title doesn't make that self evident). Instead of seeing "Kafka's Last Trial" as a headline, you'll see "Letters: Kafka's Last Trial" and now you know it's a letter to the editor, not a feature. It's a small improvement, but a welcome one.
The downside is that you also get ads, sometimes in the form of an interstitial between pages of an article. In my opinion these are a small price to pay for getting a free copy of the Times; we'll see how I feel when the pay wall goes up.
There're two tiers of navigation. A popup left column lets you jump from section to section (e.g. Top News, World, Politics, Books) and will deposit you on a 'homepage' for that section with headlines and summaries of the section's stories. Once you drill down into a full article, a nav strip along the bottom lets you browse other articles in that section. The only thing missing is a Back button. You have a choice of two font sizes but there's no way to zoom the page.
This first version of the app isn't as stable as it should be; it crashed quite a few times while I was testing it. That needs to be fixed before they start asking me to open my wallet, but in spite of the crashes (which seemed less frequent when I was actually reading content rather than randomly clicking around to see what the app could do) I'm quite happy with the new app. My Massachusetts suburbia-imposed blockade of the Sunday Times has finally been broken. Now I just have to hope that when they roll out the subscriptions, they keep the price reasonable.