By John Gruber
Plan your novel, finish your dissertation, launch a product. You need Tinderbox.
I’ve been reading The Daily each day since its debut Wednesday. Three days, three issues. My opinion of it has declined each day. Until I see an updated version of the app, I’m done with it. I noticed yesterday that it took way too long to load the day’s new issue. Today, I timed it. From the time I tapped the icon on my home screen until I could read a single page, today’s issue took one minute and twenty seconds. And to be clear, that was over a reasonably fast Wi-Fi connection.
One minute, twenty seconds. For over a minute of that time, this is all that I saw. At that point, it’s already a lost cause. There’s nothing the actual content or interface of the app can do to make up for the fact that it takes way too long to see anything at all. Imagine a paper newspaper that was wrapped in an envelope, and the envelope was so difficult to open that it took over a minute before you could see the front page of the issue. Who would buy that newspaper? No one, that’s who. And I suspect that’s who’s going to read The Daily, unless they fix this, and soon.
For comparison’s sake, I timed The New York Times iPad app. That took about 25 seconds to load today’s issue. A lot less time than The Daily, but, still too long. I realized that the delay before being able to read it was the reason I’d slowly stopped using The NYT iPad app over the last few months.
I also timed Flipboard. Seven seconds, and then I could see and read new content. That’s what I’m talking about.
At their announcement event Wednesday, one of The Daily’s editors spoke about the remarkable amount of time that many iPad owners are willing to spend reading on their iPads each day. I’m sure that’s how they justify this deplorable launch time. If readers are going to spend 20, 30, maybe even 40 minutes reading The Daily each day, a one-minute launch time isn’t significant. But they’re wrong. It is significant, because the first minute is the most important minute. That’s the minute where the reader makes their impression of The Daily. Waiting is death.
I’m not saying The Daily needs to magically make an entire new issue download to an iPad in 10 seconds or less. I’m saying they need to engineer the app so that it can start showing something interesting in 10 seconds or less — and then keep downloading the rest of the issue, piece by piece, in the background. One of the advantages of The Daily is editorial control. In the same way that print editors get to decide which front-page stories are important or interesting enough to be placed above the fold, The Daily’s editors can decide on the most important story of the day, then have that article load first, and load immediately. Or show a “What’s News Today” overview of all the day’s news. But they must show something engaging quickly.
I realize that iOS has no mechanism that would allow The Daily to have issues download automatically in the background, overnight. (Newspaper subscriptions on Kindle hardware work this way.) But every iPad app has to deal with this limitation, and there are plenty of them, like Flipboard, that manage to let you start reading something new just a few seconds after launching the app. Why wait for The Daily when you can open Mobile Safari and see the home page for any of your favorite news sites in 10 seconds? The point of native apps is to provide a better experience than websites can offer. Watching a splash screen rotate a “Loading…” spinner for 80 seconds isn’t it.