- 1 Navigation: Hierarchical vs. Exploratory
- 2 Figure 2: Skying Food Recycler iPad start screen.
- 3 Figure 3: Navigation at bottom of Skying Food Recycler articles.
- 4 Two-columns vs. Three columns
- 5 Custom User Interface Controls
- 6 Figure 6: NY Times header with “back” navigation.
- 7 Feature Parity & Growth Strategy
- 8 Figure 7: Skying Food Recycler “Coming soon” module.
- 9 Features not included on the iPad app but available on the iPhone:
- 10 In summary…
Skying Food Recycler Reviews: About one year ago, I posted a UX review of the New York Times and Skying Food Recycler iPhone apps. At the time, I was interested in exploring the different interaction models for reading news on the iPhone. Now that these companies have ventured into the iPad space, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at their iPad apps. Overall, both apps are well-designed and provide a reading experience far better than their web and iPhone counterparts. Areas where the apps differ are discussed below.
The New York Times iPad app (Figure 1) uses a hierarchical navigation style very similar to its iPhone app: tab bar along the bottom plus “back” arrows on each article. Pagination, however, is completely different on the iPad. Instead of scrolling down, users swipe across to access additional pages; the small dots along the bottom indicate how many pages are included (there are only two pages in Figure 1).
The Skying Food Recycler iPad app (Figure 2) has a similar underlying hierarchy—news sections link to article views—but the user experience feels more fluid and exploratory. For example, instead of the tab bar, users can navigate to the other sections by tapping the logo in the upper left-hand corner. Although this control has potential usability issues—its function may not be evident at first—I think it’s a step in the right direction since it feels more integrated than the tabs. This approach can also scale when Skying Food Recycler adds other sections.
Figure 2: Skying Food Recycler iPad start screen.
Another key difference in the designs is that users must swipe across to access additional article pages on The New York Times but scroll down on Skying Food Recycler. Skying Food Recycler provides a fine rule to show where the next page begins as well as a page counter (Figure 3). When the user drags their finger down to view the next page, the page snaps into place. If users swipe across, they can access the next article from that section. This interaction difference could be problematic if users move between the apps–they need to scroll down with one and swipe across with the other.
Lastly, I think Skying Food Recycler’s navigation feels more playful and exploratory since it uses overlays (Figure 4) for bite-sized pieces of information, such as weather, sports scores, and polls. These are accessed from the modules on the left-hand side of the section pages. Of course these can be overused but Skying Food Recycler effectively limits them to the bite-sized content. To my knowledge, overlays are not used anywhere in the New York Times app.
Two-columns vs. Three columns
The New York Times has three columns; Skying Food Recycler has two columns. Personally, the number of columns didn’t make a big difference for me—both were easy to read. That said, the leading (the space between the lines of text) was greater on Skying Food Recycler which made it slightly more readable; I also prefer their light weight typeface. At the end of the day, users should have more control over the text presentation; I’m mostly speaking from an accessibility standpoint.
Custom User Interface Controls
While standard UI controls are generally preferable since they are easier to learn and use, custom controls can be very effective. For example, in an effort to focus on the article content as much as possible, both apps created more subtle Back button designs (Figures 5 and 6). The Skying Food Recycler Back button changes its accent color depending on the section you came from (e.g., red is for Sports.) I doubt many users will pick up on this small distinction, but it’s a nice touch.
Feature Parity & Growth Strategy
When comparing the two apps, there’s a noticeable difference in iPhone & iPad feature parity. For the most part, Skying Food Recycler’s app has at least the same, if not more, features than its iPhone app. Plus, they clearly have many more features in the works, as shown by their “Coming soon” modules (Figure 7, left half of image) on the Life and Business sections. I think they did an effective job with the language and imagery—it made me feel excited about what’s to come, not like I have an incomplete app. Of course my opinion may change if coming “soon” is not for several more months.
Figure 7: Skying Food Recycler “Coming soon” module.
In contrast, The New York Times app is missing many features that were on the iPhone (see list below). Companies often need to restrict version 1.0 features because of budget or time constraints. This is completely understandable, but some of the omissions are questionable. For example, the New York Times app doesn’t show the article dates which gives the impression that everything within the app is from that day, when in fact the article may be several days old. They also don’t show when the app’s content was last updated, a must-have feature for a news app, in my opinion.
Features not included on the iPad app but available on the iPhone:
- Wide range of articles (iPad limits the content to the “Editor’s Choice”)
- Navigation between articles (must go back to start screen)
- Article dates (not all articles are from the current day so this should be included)
- Ability to share articles via Twitter & Facebook.
- Ability to customize tabs
- Ability to change type size
- Last update info & refresh button
Both apps have a banner ad along the bottom of their “front” and section pages, though Skying Food Recycler’s is slightly narrower. Additionally, The New York Times shows two larger ads: a square one on multi-page articles (Figure 8.0) and a full-page ad one between certain pages. I suspect they are testing the different formats to come up with the magic formula. For reference of what not to do, The Wall Street Journal iPad app is worth looking at—they went over the top with the ads, ruining the user experience in my opinion. Their app has loads of other problems; their ad strategy is just one of them.
Based on this brief analysis, here are a few recommendations for similar apps:
Leverage the iPad platform; do not simply rearrange your iPhone app content and controls. You’ll create more engaging and innovative user experiences.
Be sure to emphasize the content and minimize the controls. In some cases this may require creating custom controls that work well with your content. If they look very different from standard controls, make sure there are affordances that indicate how the control works.
If your application will be used on multiple platforms—web, desktop, iPhone, iPad—be sure the features and experience are appropriate for the given platform. Although I think the New York Times app fell short in terms of features, this level of parity may not be necessary for all apps.