As The World Turns (And My Head Spins) With ABC News' iPad App
The ABC network has done famously well with the video app it had ready on launch day for the iPad. Less than two weeks after the early April iPad launch, ABC was already boasting that the app had been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times and had streamed 650,000 time-shifted TV episodes. Months later it remains one of the best examples of a beautifully designed pure video experience on the iPad.
A carousel of the latest and most popular prime-time episodes occupies much of the screen -- and you can drop into a show grid as well as a wall of thumbnails for all the video available from ABC shows. Daytime TV fans can even catch up on recent episodes of their favorite soap operas and "The View."
As with the new Hulu Plus, ABC seems to understand the importance of performance in an app where sampling and triaging videos for later viewing is a natural activity. The clips pop up very quickly. In our use of video apps on smart phones and the iPad, we can't stress enough how much performance translates into use. The mobile user knows which of his or her apps can be trusted to deliver assets quickly and which cannot, and their behaviors shift accordingly.
And so the arrival of the ABCNews app last month was a bit of a puzzler. In an attempt to engage the touch-iness of the iPad interface, ABCNews uses a globe as its default interface. The major video stories are tiles on the globe and it spins freestyle across all axes.
Dizzy yet? I am. For the record, an orb is not a good way to visually navigate content. The user never knows where he or she relative to the past position. It is quite possible to spin the thing in certain directions and miss whole swaths of content.
This execution is made worse by the fact that many of the story tiles are repeated adjacent to one another. Worse still, it is all pretty sluggish compared to the ABC Player for prime-time shows. Nothing seems to be buffered very well, so load times for basic screens even with text feel slow.
Luckily there is an option to drop into the more linear presentation, which is more like a Web site. Text stories, slide shows and video clips are blended. But, again, it feels pretty much like a Web site, with very little touchability. Somehow the gulf in this app between over-imagining what a touch interface might do and simply replicating the clutter of a Web site suggests a vast middle ground for applying touch and video.