The Guardian finally released an iPad app this week. It was worth the wait.
The paper has been a digital pioneer, but (apart from the brilliant Eyewitness photojournalism app) has been left behind as the Daily Telegraph, The Times and Sunday Times have launched apps for Apple's hugely successful iPad.
But the Guardian's effort is the most stylish of them all. The design is gorgeous, with big photos, and clear text on white background. Navigation is straightforward.
The app also takes advantage of Apple's Newsstand app, which automatically deivers new editions as they become available. That's good news: no need to wait for an edition to download before racing out of the door to catch your morning train.
Editor in chief Alan Rusbridger acknowledged in a blog post that not everyone will be happy. As he says, it's a 'reflexive, once a day Guardian', rather than the website. Many commenters complained that the app won't include comments on articles. But that reflects the fact it's a digital newspaper, not a live website. The printed paper doesn't include comments, apart from the daily letters to the editor, which also appear in the app. The criticisms show we now have different views on what a newspaper is. Traditionalist see it as a printed product, and like the apps that provide a digital version. Others think the old idea of a paper as a once a day snapshot of news is hopelessly out of date. (They'd point out that the app makes no mention of Liam Fox's resignation, which happened five hours ago.)
The app doesn't include everything - the excellent Weekend magazne isn't included, for example. I'm sure this will follow. (The Times app's Saturday edition originally missed most of the Saturday print content, which appeared a few months later.)
But I still like the idea of the reflexive Guardian, as Rusbridger describes it. I know all about Fox's departure - I read about it on Twitter, confirmed it on the BBC news site and heard more on Radio 4's PM. I'm a Gaurdian print subscriber, and welcome the chance to download a version to read on the train on my days in London. In time, I'm sure newspaper apps will be updated more often - The Times brought out an app update to mark Steve Jobs' death last week.
I also like Rusbridger's view of the changing Guardian: "The Guardian is many other things. You can now watch, listen to and join in with the Guardian. You can literally follow it minute by minute around the clock as it reports, mirrors, analyses and gives context to the shifting patterns and rhythms of the world's news. It's Android when it wants to be, Kindle when it chooses." He's right. The same principle applies to many aspects of modern life: we want to connext to Facebook on different devices; we want to check our diary in the same way; we're increasingly looking to shop online and on the high street, on a mobile and a PC. Companies need to change the way they offer services to customers in this ever-flexible world.
The bigger question is whether the Guardian's iPad app move will revive the Guardian's finances. The group has faced a couple of torrid years, as print sales and ad revenues fall, and the GMG invests heavily in digital. The iPad app will cost £9.99 a month, while web access will remain free, unlike at News International's titles. Will the Grauniad follow NI's example? If it doesn't, it's hard to see how the losses will be reduced significantly. A growing number of readers don't buy the print edition, and won't pay for an app while they can get all the web content for free. Yet I share the view of a few commenters on Rusbridger's blogpost: I want to contribute to the Guardian's quality journalism, and like the idea of the app. Time will tell if enough of us cough up.
Below: photos come to life on the Guardian app