Guardian Eyewitness debuted in 2010 and is still tremendously popular on iPads. Not unlike The Wider Image, the app is a way to get news via visuals instead of blocks of text. Once a day, the app is updated with a photo hand picked by The Guardian’s editors. There’s a little info bubble that displays information about the photo and a pro photographer tip to help you capture similar moments with your own camera.
That pro tip is what really separates Guardian Eyewitness from other like-minded apps. The focus here is primarily on photography; news is a secondary function. This is an app meant for photographers, and probably designed by photographers too, which is definitely a good thing.
The photography really stands out. I’m a hobbyist photographer myself, and I’m constantly stunned by the sheer quality of what I see in this app. And although the photos look great on an iPad Mini, they shine on an iPad with Retina display. Any photo lover is going to love these.
But the tips are probably the biggest goldmine here. They don’t get too in depth, but there arguably isn’t the space to do that here because the priority is the picture and not the text. The tips are great, though. Often they discuss aperture, ISO, grain and other more advanced photography techniques. You don’t have to read them, but for any budding photographer, they’re a great way to learn something while you spend time looking at the photos.
And these are photos that you will want to spend meaningful time with. Some of the photos here are of such excellent quality that I spent a couple minutes looking at the tiny details in them, and sometimes the topic of choice is worth contemplating. Some photos leave me speechless; cities reduced to rubble, a house in the middle of a paved street, pairs of whales peeking their heads out of the water beside a person in a small boat. It’s true when they say that a picture is worth 1,000 words.
All Your Favourites
The app has a few additional functions you can check out while you’re browsing photos. The first is a pesky Subscribe button that never leaves the task bar. The second are the Sharing and Favourites features. Sharing is done between email, Facebook and Twitter, and is pretty much the usual. The Guardian does track what photos get the most shares and reports on that though, which is kind of cool.
The Favourites feature is a little irritating. It’s handled via an obvious hollowed-out star, and tapping on the star fills it in and allows you to mark the photo for posterity. The Guardian Eyewitness only keeps a rolling cycle of 100 photos, but marking one as a favourite keeps them stored in the app beyond that. It’s a painless and easy way to keep photos past their unfortunate expiry date.
What miffs me is the lack of a Guardian EyeWitness account. The photos I have selected as favourites on my third-generation iPad won’t be visible on my iPad Mini because they are not linked to an account, only to my device. If I had a Kindle Fire and used that version of the app, it would have its own unique favourites as well. I think it’s a shame that my favourites aren’t synced via some sort of cloud-based architecture. It would probably be a lot more work for the developer, but I feel like cloud synchronization shouldn’t be something I have to ask for in 2012.
Subscription-based Revenue Model
Earlier this year, The Guardian Eyewitness team introduced a $1.99/month subscription option in the app. In addition to the picture they add to their original series every day, the subscription gets you “three more standout pictures of the day” and access to a collection of other photograph archives and news sections. Currently, that includes sections about the Olympics, Paralympics, fashion weeks, the US election, wildlife and political images. Many of these are from the archive, which makes sense. The Guardian has a history of featuring exceptional photos, and it’s nice that many of them are now available digitally.
All of the photos are really high quality, and knowing what I know about the Guardian, there’s no reason to expect that you wouldn’t get your money’s worth. That being said, the app itself is free, and although the aforementioned Subscribe button never leaves the task bar, there’s no shameless pop-up advertisement that gets in your way as you browse through the app. So nobody is forcing you to subscribe if you just want to use it.
I personally do not have a subscription, but I find that I only look through the app once a week or so, and the daily photo updates are enough for me. That being said, my interest in this is purely at a hobbyist level. If you’re a professional photographer or just love this news format or visual medium of storytelling, that $2 per month is going to be more than worth it for you.
Apart from the lack of cloud syncing, the only other real problem I had with the app was related to speed. On both my third-generation iPad and my iPad Mini, the app is slow to launch and occasionally lags when I’m browsing. I don’t know if that’s the fault of my device, but I would hardly consider either of them terribly out of date at the moment. The fourth-generation iPad will offer a big speed boost, but sometimes apps with bottleneck code are simply apps with bottleneck code.
I did experience a couple of crashes, but opening the app again from the dashboard always fixed those. It’s worth noting that these problems are, for me, new and inconsistent. I’ve been using this app for about half a year and it has only started causing problems recently. They’re extremely rare, but the generally slow pace of the app is common.
The Guardian Eyewitness is worth it for the pro tips alone. Free daily updates are great, and the photos are stunning! The subscription is something that you’ll probably struggle with once you see the quality of the photograph, but you’ll know whether or not it’s for you.
I’m confident in recommending The Guardian Eyewitness to everybody with an iPad. It’s one of the easiest ways to show off that display to your friends, but, despite the app’s quirks, it’s also a great way to keep up with the world around you.