In my post yesterday about open standards, I argued that it's really not true that proprietary application platforms like iPhone, iPad or Android can do more than stuff designed on open standards, at least for news sites. To put that in plain language, it's not true that 'apps' you buy on your iPad can do more things than websites you can access on any browser. This is an argument in principle of course. Depending on how the industry evolves, it may definitely become the case that apps do cooler and more stuff. But that's because of the way the big companies are shaping the media environment; not because there's any inherent reason it needs to be that way.
Anyway, that's a complicated argument. Tonight I want to note something simpler but just as interesting. As news and information apps have developed over the last 18 months or so, we've seen new styles of presenting information come into being. It's sort of like the way people found new visual metaphors for presenting news on the web in the late 1990s.
But there are really two things going on. New technologies which make different functionalities possible and what I would call new visual metaphors. Just to give a very simple example, think of the way that many tablets and smartphones now allow you to swipe and turn a page as opposed to scrolling or just clicking a link to go to another page. It's easy to think they're one thing. But they're not. They're two distinct things -- changing technologies and new visual metaphors. And as I've been doing research and looking and different design possibilities one thing that has occurred to me is that a lot of these new visual metaphors are as easy to build into websites as they are into apps.
The question is, do they really improve your ability to read and digest information? Do they organize information better? Are they more intuitive? Some of them I think are; others are just neat but mainly novelties.
In any case, here's what I'd like to get your opinion about. If you use the chrome browser, you can go to the 'Chrome store' and download 'apps' for several different news sites. The truth is that these aren't really 'apps' in way at least I think of them. They're very customized settings that allow the browser to do smoothly what you could on with a design on any modern browser. But let's not get sidetracked on that. There are two of these apps I'd like to get your opinion on. There's one for the New York Times which you can download here. And one for Huffington Post you can download here.
If you're game I'd love it if you could download these -- just takes like 20 seconds and it's free -- and tell me what you think of them. Is it a way of viewing the site that you prefer to the web version you're used to? Can you find stuff easier? Is it just nicer?
I have some of my own ideas -- one of which is that the some of the best things about these new designs is that some exercise a dramatic degree of design restraint, that is a big and pleasing contrast to have messy and widgetized a lot of sites are. But forget I said that. If you've got a moment, look at these two designs and let me know your opinion. What do you think? And if there are other designs you've liked or not liked, let me know about those too.