The Wider Image, from Reuters, is one of the most interesting iPad apps to come from the news category in quite some time. Initially, I wrote it off as “just another” photography app like The Guardian Eyewitness (which is also brilliant, in case anybody is wondering), but after spending some serious time with the app, I can say that The Wider Image is an entirely different beast.
The Wider Image presents news stories from around the world using mostly images, but occasionally presents audio and video as well. What separates the app from other like-minded photography news apps is the level of interaction it offers you with the media. Instead of bringing up-to-the-minute news updates, The Wider Image wants to bring you carefully-chosen articles designed to take full advantage of your iPad’s touch-centric capabilities.
How It Works
The first time you open The Wider Image, if you’re anything like me, you might be a bit confused by its interface. That’s because The Wider Image doesn’t look like anything else on iOS. The photo collage of news stories takes a couple minutes to adjust to, and without text, it can be difficult to know what you’re just about to read.
That’s pretty smart though, because staring at a wall of images makes you ask yourself: “which of these images grabs my attention the most?” This is news for the ADD news junkie.
Tapping on any image brings up a larger picture of the thumbnail, and scrolling from there reveals the rest of the article. Most of the article is told in pictures, although each does have a quick caption that focuses in on the image at hand. Everything looks glorious on a Retina display, and the photos really are (unsurprisingly) of the highest quality.
The pictures aren’t necessarily static either, some of the pictures are interactive: they become maps, slideshows, videos, interactive before/after pictures, and panoramic shots you really have to see (and pinch and move) to believe.
Some photos feature long-form articles, but that’s rare. The focus here is purely visual, and that introduces a couple problems for the app. The first is that it’s really data heavy and requires a pretty strong Internet connection to load quickly. The second is that its focus on strong photojournalism means that the articles are often out of date. If you want to read about current events, this is not the app for you. But if you are interested in fine visual reporting and have a love of excellent photography, this will be right up your alley.
Exploring the Landscape
The Wider Image automatically creates a user profile for your device. It’s a really nice, surprising touch to see that you don’t need to go through the troubling process of registering to (likely yet another) service just to keep track of what you’re reading through. The app allows you to save all your favourite articles with the tap of a button — and without registering. All of your interactions with the app are stored in a section called My View. The caveat is that your profile is associated with the device as a result, which means that if you own multiple iPads, the app will create a profile for each one and your favourites won’t be saved on all your devices. The other problem that comes from this is the loss of data if your device every needs to be restored.
The Explore section of the app allows you to look through the news articles by date, location, photographer and article theme. None of these options are revolutionary, but their inclusion is a nice touch.
Finding Your Way Around
The app can be a little intimidating. The Wider Image is beautiful to look at, but its sheer size can make it feel difficult to navigate. That, coupled with a design that occasionally feels reminiscent of Android (check out the design of the Back button), often means that the app feels a little confused.
Occasional freezing or crashes, likely induced by the sheer amount of data that the app is frequently trying to download, don’t make getting to the articles you’re really interested in as easy as it could be. On more than one occasion, when I was at a coffee shop with a less-than-stellar Internet connection, I had to force quit the app before booting it back up and finding my place after that.
Getting An Alternative View
It’s nice to see the app embrace something other than just plain old images. I love the panoramic shots — tapping on them allows you to pinch to zoom and rotate them to get a complete view of a scene. I also love shots that allow you to move a slider up and down to get two alternate takes of the same scenery; this was great to use in a before/after situation.
The audio cues in the app are interesting. I’m not sure if they’re recorded live at the scene or privately in a studio after the fact, and that might be case-dependent, but I found they were my least used feature. The idea is interesting, but I never felt they added to the photo journals.
And it really does feel like this is an app of photo journals. These aren’t really traditional news stories. This is not the best way to read about Hurricane Sandy or the election, but it might be the most visually stimulating. In other words, if you’re interested in a news app that wants to present to you stories in pictures rather than words and you’re okay with waiting for the highest of quality articles to hit the app, The Wider Image is going to be right up your alley.
The Wider Image isn't the best way to get up-to-date news if you're a junkie, but if you're looking for a visual alternative to traditional news articles or just a great way to look at some astounding photography on your iPad, it's an app you need to look into.8