The Times’ iPhone app has been out for some time, but the newspaper recently relaunched the app, making it free for a limited period of time.
The newspaper says it now has more than 100,000 digital subscribers, though it doesn’t say how many are subscribing via the website or on other platforms such as the Kindle and iPad.
Clearly, The Times hopes that a free preview of the mobile app will convince people to pay the £2 per week subscription when the paywall comes back down.
At £2 per week, it is relatively expensive compared to The Guardian’s app, while those of other broadsheet rivals The Telegraph and Independent, are currently free.
So how does The Times’ app compare?
I like the look of the homepage, which recreates the look of a newspaper in the same way that the website does.
The use of images with links to each story helps users to scan and quickly see an article that may interest them, while showing the full headline should provide enough of an ‘information scent’ to attract clicks.
Also, the fact that the headline and image can be clicked to access the article improves usability for users of touch-screen phones.
There are customisation options which allow users to move three of their favourite sections to the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen.
This is handy enough, but it is limited, and doesn’t allow you to customise the home screen at all.
Articles are easy to view, and can be enlarged, while users can click the icon on the screen to save articles to read later or offline. Also, clicking on an image in an article allows you to see a larger version and scroll through others:
All in all, the app looks good, and works well enough, but there are a few limitations:
No search box
There is no option to search the site, presumably because The Times wants to keep some of its content out of reach to give people a reason to subscribe, though this does make the app less usable, and less useful.
For example, using the Guardian app, I can search for information and past articles on any subject, which makes it a far more valuable research tool.
Perhaps for the same reasons as the lack of site search, there are no links to related stories and topics within articles.
Research suggests that, for mobile commerce and news sites, users do not want a pared down version of the main site for mobile.
The content on the app seems to be limited to the current edition of the newspaper, so for example, articles from columnists like Giles Coren and Jeremy Clarkson are unavaiable.
No video content
There is no video or multimedia content on this app at all. A recent study of iPhone apps from news organisations rated Sky’s apps highly, partly because of the range of video on offer, something that The Guardian also does well.
Whether the paywall is the correct strategy or not remains to be seen, but this app lags behind its rivals.
It is reasonably easy to use, and contains some good content and features, but I think casual users will be frustrated by the limitations of the app.
Perhaps when the newspaper begins to charge for the app, a search box will appear and the range of available content will expand, but the current version isn’t a great advert for subscriptions.