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Having introduced a new mobile website earlier this year, The Guardian's iPhone app was released today.
The app, developed by 2ergo, is £2.39 to download, offers some useful features, such as offline browsing, and a customisable homepage. I've been trying it out this morning...
Why an iPhone app?
While the mobile website provides a very good user experience, there is simply more you can do on an app, such as the option to read articles offline, which is a major bonus.
As The Guardian's Jonathan Moore explains here, a simple look at the visitor stats for the mobile site shows the market for an app. The iPhone accounts for the majority of mobile traffic, and the mobile site gets close to 1m monthly uniques.
The look of the homepage is a big improvement, and I especially like the option to shoe either the latest headlines, or look through trending topics. You can also choose to browse by most viewed articles in the last 24 hours:
Click the icon at the top right of the app's homepage, and you can customise the sections that appear on the homepage, the order of content, and the number of stories displayed per section by dragging them up and down:
The user interface is smooth and the app is easy to navigate. At the bottom, you can switch between homepage, favourites, most viewed, and audio content, or you can navigate by section under the 'more' link.
While other newspaper apps have limited the range of content accessible from mobiles, you seem to be able to access most of what is on the desktop website, though you can't access much in the way of older articles. For instance, if I search for columns by Charlie Brooker, I can only go back as far as November.
The site search is excellent though, with an auto-suggest function to help users, and the ability to search through topics, sections, and by contributors:
Articles are well laid out and easy to read. Text can be resized if necessary, though one improvement would be the ability to turn the phone for an article reader, as on the FT.com app.
Elsewhere, the related subjects at the foot of the articles are more comprehensive than on the mobile site, while you can also click the author's name and see a list of their most recent articles. All of this provides more interesting further reading, and helps to keep people on the site:
This is one of the most useful features of the app, and great news for people who want to read articles on the tube, or anywhere else with no 3G connection.
It's simple to use as well; simply select the sections you want, and the app wil save all the relevant content:
There are a few things which could be improved on the app though; there are no hyperlinks within articles for instance, which, as The Guardian points out, is to keep users within the app rather than sending them to the phone's Safari browser.
This is sensible, but it does mean that some articles, such as 'The people who ruined the decade' cannot be viewed on the app, as the links to the various parts of the article don't work:
A few people also seem to have experienced one or two problems with being kicked out of the app, though I have managed to use it for a few hours without any such problems.
The ability to both read and add comments from the app would also be a huge improvement and this, along with the complaints from app-less non-iPhone users. seem to be one of the major suggestions from the users commenting on the app.
According to Jonathon Moore, while The Guardian is not the first newspaper to develop an iPhone app, it aims to be the best so far, and it comes close to this.
The app is definitely an improvement on an already very good mobile site, and I'm happy to pay the cost of the app for the offline reading function alone.
I think the FT.com iPhone app is the best example of a UK Newspaper producing an iPhone to now, but the content on The Guardian has broader appeal, and this is the app I'll be using more often.