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Media Technology

I read the news today, ho hum

As you may have heard, The Guardian has created an iPhone app. It’s very good. But is it as good as ink printed on dead trees?

One of the side-effects of the current cold snap is that my papers aren’t delivered until fairly late in the day, if at all. I’m a creature of habit, so that buggers up my day quite considerably: the natural order of things is coffee, paper, toast, work. Hurrah, then, for the Guardian iPhone app.

Well, not quite. As an app it’s brilliant. As a newspaper replacement, it isn’t.

The single most important problem isn’t the app’s fault, but the iPhone’s. Reading from a screen isn’t fun, especially when you’re up too early and it’s still pitch black outside. No matter how much you tweak it, reading from a brightly lit screen simply isn’t as easy on the eyes as reading from paper.

The second problem is also the iPhone’s fault: the screen’s too small. Maybe it’s just me and my RSI, but holding the phone in one position for any period of time starts to hurt my hands, and because it’s such a small screen you spend more time scrolling than you do reading. I know it’s possible to read entire books on the iPhone, but I think anybody who does is nuts.

The third problem is that there’s a lack of serendipity. Again, this may just be me, but I find I tend to read much more of a printed paper or magazine than I do with a screen-based one. In print I’ll read most things; on a screen I only tend to click on the things I know I’m interested in.

Maybe things will change with the forthcoming Apple Tablet That Will Do Everything Including Raising Elvis From The Dead, or with e-ink based ebook readers (although I’m not convinced they have a long term future) – or more likely, maybe we’ll see new kinds of publication with embedded video and other goodies. But for those of us who need a daily print fix, I’m not sure technology has a decent alternative just yet.