The Guardian has today revamped its suite of mobile apps, which are built using responsive design so the Android and iOS versions run off the same backend systems.
Designed to better showcase the Guardian’s range of editorial and interactive content, the apps are free to download and are instead funded by new, larger ad units.
From an editorial and UX point of view the new design is a huge step away from the traditional list or feed format that we’re used to seeing from news and content providers.
They use a card-based layout similar to the Guardian’s beta responsive site, which also puts more control back in the hands of editorial staff.
Tom Grinsted, Group Product Manager for Mobile and Devices, explained that the apps were designed to reflect the values that we expect from traditional media, so the size and position of stories denotes their relative importance.
The Guardian’s editors allocate different values to the stories within the CMS and an algorithm then interprets that information and adapts the layout to fit the different screen sizes.
As a result, important stories and breaking news are given more prominence and sit alongside larger images.
The new apps are a huge improvement on the old versions as it allows editorial staff to convey the difference between articles and content.
Aside from the new layout, the articles themselves also have new formats so readers know whether it’s news, a feature or a gallery post.
For example, live blogs appear in red and have a flashing ‘live’ symbol, while feature articles are purple and enjoy a slightly more elaborate layout.
Users are also able to follow specific authors, blogs or stories. This means they receive a push notification when a relevant article is published.
Grinsted said that push notifications have been an effective way of driving traffic to the Guardian, and resulted in the mobile apps becoming the largest source of traffic to breaking stories.
It’s also worth noting the interactive content, which is a new addition to the mobile apps. This allows the Guardian to showcase its visual content, such as this interactive map of the European election results.
This particular feature opened in my browser though, so it’s not an entirely seamless user journey.
Some previous versions of the Guardian’s apps had cost a few pounds to download but the publisher has now moved to an ad-funded model.
The ads will appear as cards within the homepage layout, which is described as a “holistic integration” that means they hopefully don’t get in the way of the news content.
Ads will also appear as banners, within articles themselves, and as interstitials in gallery posts. These interstitials have apparently proven to be very successful on the iPad daily edition of the Guardian, achieving a clickthrough rate of 1%.
The real benefit of these new responsive apps is that the Guardian can now sell access to its audience as a whole rather than having to sell the different apps separately.
I’m a big fan of the new layout and features, however it’s probably not a good idea to become too attached to the current iteration of the app.
Grinsted said that this is simply the starting point for the next three years of app development.
His team has a wealth of ideas for how to evolve and improve the apps – “too many ideas,” in fact – and will also be tracking user data to see where alterations need to be made.
One potential change will be the use of ‘passive’ personalisation, where people are recommended a particular homepage layout based on their previous behaviour.
This type of agile development is commonplace among tech teams and is a growing trend among marketing teams as well. For more information on this topic, read Econsultancy CEO Ashley Friedlein’s post on the 70:20:10 rule of agile marketing.
Personally I think the Guardian’s new apps are brilliant. As a daily user of its Android app I always found the list format a bit dull and restrictive, but the new layout is far more attractive and makes it easier to find and read new articles.
The variation in the article formats, personalisation options and interactive content have vastly improved the user experience and as an ex-hack I’m pleased that the editors have regained control over the layout.
This all means that the Guardian is streets ahead of its competition in terms of mobile development.
However the real test is whether the new ad-funded model will enable the publisher to start turning a profit.