The Guardian newspaper gets Spotify-ed, launches iPhone app with off-line browsing

offline140[UK] The Guardian has launched its long awaited iPhone app, which is designed to give a better reading experience on Apple’s iconic device than the UK newspaper’s standard desktop or mobile offering.

The app isn’t isn’t free, however, unlike most of The Guardian’s content, costing a one-off payment of £2.39 for which readers will be spared ads (for now) and get a raft of smartphone-optimized features. These include basic customisation of the newspaper’s ‘front page’, support for audio, and perhaps most notable, off-line browsing – although early App Store reviews suggest that the app is still a little buggy and lacks some obvious social media functionality.

guardian-iphoneThe headline feature of off-line browsing works in a similar way to music streaming service Spotify’s own iPhone app. Sections of the newspaper can be ‘cached’ in advance to enable access when outside of a WiFi network or mobile signal. As with listening to music, this is particularly appropriate for reading a newspaper on-the-go, such as when commuting on London’s Underground or any other subway for that matter. The app also offers access to the various Guardian podcasts, which can be downloaded in advance or streamed.

Photo galleries can be navigated with a swipe of the finger as well as viewed in full screen. Favourite articles can be ‘starred’ for later reference, Gmail-style. And in a nod towards individual writers as brands in themselves, readers can browse by author. The app also makes heavy use of tagging to help readers discover related content. All in all it’s quite an ambitious first attempt and, I’d suggest, gives a glimpse into what accessing a digital version of a newspaper might be like on the much-rumored Apple tablet (see video below).

That said, there are notable omissions, such as the option to share links via Twitter, or the ability to highlight, copy and paste portions of text – perhaps this is intentional? One early App Store review is also reporting stability issues with regards to the app’s killer feature, off-line browsing.

As for the price, even though rival UK newspaper offerings for the iPhone remain free (The Telegraph and The Independent), The Guardian’s app offers some unique and potentially compelling features, and of course is ad-free. That’s unlikely to remain the case for ever though as a one-off payment clearly isn’t sustainable.

Moving forward, The Guardian has a number of choices. Keep improving the app and charge users for each major upgrade. Move to a subscription model, utilising Apple’s in-app purchasing for the iPhone. Or introduce ads (The Telegraph’s iPhone app is heavily sponsored by companies such as Dell and Cisco). The newspaper’s head of mobile products, Jonathon Moore, isn’t ruling out the latter, reports paidContent UK.