ABC and CBS have both published news apps for the iPad with little brother versions for the iPhone/iPod touch. This review looks at the iPad versions which are colorful, well written, and fairly complete. One, however, is clearly superior.
The ABC app launches with a globe with the selected news stories rendered on the surface with a 3D effect. This can be viewed as symbolism for world and community or it can be viewed as shallow, flashy graphics for the sake of showing off the iPad’s Core Graphics.
At launch - the sphere
While cool to look at, the ABC use of the sphere does have a UI disadvantage. Unless one is immediately aware of the function of the “Browse” button the upper left, the default category can make the app appear shallow in content. In addition, there’s little opportunity for well integrated ads, the local weather, and the Dow Jones Index. So the first thing you want to do is select the proper category of news with the Browse button. And once you do, it’s a bit of a pain to go back and change. The upshot is that this UI doesn’t serve the user well, but it looks very cool.
There is a video section, but it’s limited to clips from various ABC news shows. In a somewhat confused approach, there is also a “Programs” category. And if you select that and, say, World News, you get a mixture of text and video clips. They aren’t differentiated, so you don’t know if it’s text or video until you touch it.
Typical News Story
In another UI snafu, you must touch the story on the globe twice to view it. At the bottom of each story is a share button for Facebook, Twitter or e-mail. Text articles can be saved for offline viewing later.
So far as I could tell, you can’t watch the ABC World News with Diane Sawyer cover to cover.
The CBS News app takes a more conventional, perhaps cluttered, but certainly more practical approach. A banner at the top has stock market info, local temperature information, and a selector for News or Shows. Right away, the user understands the choice.
At Launch, portrait mode
The sections below the major stories at the top can be scrolled up and down, then right to left. Articles that are videos are clearly marked the the standard “>”, right arrow. You can immediately home in on, say, the politics section, then scan to the right and left to see relevant stories.
The CBS News app distinguishes between landscape and portrait mode. In landscape mode, the layout is more like a newspaper with columns for Top News, Videos, Popular News, Galleries, and Twitter. Like the ABC News app, you can save a text story for offline viewing. The icons for that as well as e-mail, Facebook and Twitter sharing are right in the middle of the story and seem more intuitive to me. Also, it’s one less button to push. Again, CBS has thought through the UI.
Typical News Story
Comparing the Two
Both apps provide search, the ability to save a story for later viewing offline, video news stories, a standard video controller for controlling clips, and interfaces to Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. Both offer clips from their various news programs: Good Morning America, Night Line, This Week, etc. for ABC and the Early Show, Sunday Morning, Face The Nation, etc. for CBS. However, the CBS app offers the full CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, cover to cover, while the ABC app doesn’t have full shows of ABC World News (that I could find.)
Both apps have a sprinkling of ads, both video and text. The CBS app pushes the Kindle quite hard, in your face, on the home page, and text news stories have static ads on the page, like a Website or newspaper. The ABC app inserts its ads between text pages (so it’s easier to skip over) or at the start of a video, I wouldn’t categorize either app as being offensive with the use of ads. So far, the tolerance of the reader is respected, and I hope that remains so over time.
Neither app crashed on me during testing.
If I had to chose just one, it would be the CBS app. It seems more sober and professional. The UI is better: more intuitive, better organized and fewer button presses. Videos are clearly marked. The full CBS Evening News is available. ABC was first out of the block, but CBS took its time and got important things right.
Both apps are free and both require iOS 3.2 or later.