The Times iPad app drives out my 40 year imperative to read the paper every day

You have a few spare moments over breakfast, so you pick up your paper copy of the Times, hoping to skim a few pages of it. The pages, however, seem stuck together and it takes you several attempts to move between them. The struggle to turn the pages means that you barely get to read anything.

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Suddenly, your newsagent bursts in. He has a later edition to give you and won’t take No for an answer, interposing himself between you and the edition you actually wanted to read. As if that were not annoying enough, he won’t actually let go of the new edition, clinging onto it as you try to take it – you do that because that seems to be your only hope of getting rid of him. By the time you have got the new edition, you have run out of reading time for the copy you actually want to read.

You give up, and hope to catch up while you are on the Tube. But here is that bloody newsagent again – there is an update, he says, but he can’t let you have it just now. Meanwhile, he just stands in the way, again preventing you from reading the old one.

This more or less parallels the experience of reading The Times iPad version, each succeeding release of which is worse than the one before. I should make it clear that the app itself is very attractive and well laid out with tabs which allow you to choose another day’s paper or to move to a section or article within your current edition. Now that they have found someone literate to edit the picture captions (a problem in the early days) the Times app provides a crisp, clean way to read a paper to which I first subscribed in 1973.

All that is thrown away by the incompetence – no other word for it, I am afraid – with which the Times has managed both the transition between pages and the delivery of new editions.

You find yourself repeatedly swiping from right to left, hoping to move to the next page. This sometimes works within an article, but the transition from one article to the next rarely happens smoothly – thus the reference above to the pages in your paper edition being stuck together; it takes several goes to move on, and skimming the paper – surely one of the benefits of the tablet mechanism – is impossible.

The only way around this is to use the Contents tab which, after a delay, allows you to pick a new section or an article within a section. If, as one sometimes suspects, the transitions are made difficult to ensure that your eye will rest on the advertisements for longer, then this objective is utterly defeated by driving us to the Contents tab, because that allows us to bypass the advertisements completely (actually, I don’t accuse the developers of anything so subtle – I think they just don’t know how to do it properly).

The delivery mechanism is even more infuriating. To begin with, there is an error of principle in having the application decide for itself to go off and retrieve a new edition – the source of the description above of the newsagent trying to force an update on you. Why can you not choose to do that for yourself when you have finished reading the last one?

That error of principle is compounded by botched technology which takes a very long time to deliver the download. All you see at this point is a white page and an empty progress indicator. It can take several minutes for the new edition to arrive and that has nothing to do with my iPad or my network, which together allow me to watch streaming video without problem.

This gets particularly tiresome (to use a moderate word) when you are not always connected to wi-fi – the parallel to the newsagent on the tube. You might, for example, download several editions to read on a plane, only to find that they have been surreptitiously marked with the excited warning that an update is available. That might be acceptable if you are at that point connected to wi-fi. If you are not, then the flag prevents you from opening the downloaded edition, whilst the absence of wi-fi prevents you from accessing the new one. I spend quite a lot of my life on aeroplanes and this drives me to fury. It would not, of course, be necessary to store copies for future reading if it were easy to flick through the paper on the day it is published.

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You can’t see the old edition because we have a new one for you. We can’t connect you to the new one. Loop and start again….

My usual approach to any new application is to wait and see what other users have to say about new versions before downloading it for myself. I would take this line particularly with the Times since I am well aware that its developers are not competent to deliver what they promise and are happy to shovel out untested crap. They give you no option about taking the download of a new app – you either accept it or you lose access to the paper. Furthermore, and equally infuriatingly, the upgrades always reset the preference for the time to keep back numbers – I always set it to 30 days and the upgrade sets it back to the default on 7 days.

I complain about all this on Twitter from time to time and nearly always get an emollient reply accepting that there are problems and promising urgent attention to them. I could, I suppose, walk to the shop and buy a paper edition – it is only a quarter of a mile away, so I could be back in less time than it takes to deliver an update to the iPad edition.

I can’t be bothered. The interesting consequence of all this is I am losing my 40 year-old imperative to read the Times and the Sunday Times every day. I can’t bothered any more – not, I think, the publisher’s objective in launching an iPad version.

One last point – the price went up recently at a time when, I think, the Times thought it had fixed the problems (it had in fact made them worse). Who else do you know who hikes prices against a never-fulfilled promise of better things to come? That’s it – the train operating companies, like my local bunch of incompetent shysters, First Great Western. Fine company to be keeping, chaps.

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
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