The Onion: Fact x Importance = News

If you have never heard of The Onion, then you’re in for real treat. If you have, but haven’t yet got yourself The Onion app for the iPad, then read on in eager anticipation of the link to it at the bottom…

The Onion refers to itself as “America’s Finest News Source”, and I’m not going to argue. Depending on my mood, The Onion is either the first or second place I go for my news; either to prepare me for, or soften the blow from, the actual news. Its particular brand of satirical humour, even after years of loyalty, continues to feel fresh and original – that they have created a bespoke app for the iPad is good. News.

This Is the News

I’m going to continue this review by focussing, as I should, on The Onion app itself. It’s probably already clear that I’m a fan, but I’m sure their comic stylings don’t appeal to everyone.

As a preface to this review, it’s worth me noting that the iPad is my premiere source of news and information of that kind. I love the BBC News app and use Reeder and Instapaper on an everyday basis. The iPad is beautifully intuitive way to read the news, allowing for saving or sharing of particularly interesting article with a simple touch.

Design & Interface

The people behind The Onion app have fully understood the strengths of the iPad in this regard. The highest piece of specific praise I can give is that the app is truly intuitive, taps and swipes work exactly as you’d expect – once you’re on an article you scroll up and down to read more, and sideways to change to the next (or last) article.

Latest News

As if to illustrate my point, The Onion’s iTunes page includes this description of the app:

Now, using the latest news-providing technologies, The Onion introduces a format that allows you to touch the news. That’s right. Swipe it, poke it, berate it, and it reacts accordingly.

Images

The navigation of the app is simple, but perfect for the kind of browsing that reading The Onion encourages. There is no search feature. While this would be incredibly frustrating on some apps, reading The Onion is often an entertaining aside to whatever else you are supposed to be doing – there is plenty of new, and more relevant, content available to bring out the laughs.

There are only four ways in which to browse the news:

  • Latest News – a mixture of various types of article, sorted by the most recent.
  • Videos – just the videos.
  • Images – just the news in pictures, statshots, and editorial cartoons (with their inimitable style).
  • Sports – as you’d expect.

Videos

These four modes simplify using the app and tend to suit most situations. Sometimes you want the sports, sometimes something visual but silent, sometimes you’re in the mood for video content, and sometimes you just want to read something entertaining and new.

All of these modes play to the visual strength of much of the content, you’ll notice there isn’t a just text mode. Engaging imagery and multimedia content underpins the overall feel of the app, and is something they should be praised for – they have capitalised on one of the key strengths of the iPad. The videos, in particular, are rather appealing from within the app. There’s no flash and a distinct lack of annoying YouTube-esque adverts.

Playing Video Content

Advertising

The Onion app is free, as is all of the content.

That’s amazing, and one of the great benefits of the modern era of publishing. But, they have to make their money somehow and advertising is the only way to go if you’re not going to charge your readers. The adverts are there, but, and here’s where I’m going to surprise you, they’re actually done rather well.

I think a lot of application makers could learn from the example The Onion sets in advertising. There’s an advert as the app is loading, but that’s pretty excusable.

The loading advert doesn’t return unless you choose to refresh all of the content from within the app.

The only other form of advertising is when you’re switching between articles in reading view. As you swipe left or right through articles, there will occasionally be a full page advert placed instead of an article – but all it takes is a simple swipe to move along.

The Editorial Cartoons look great on the iPad's screen.

The key thing is that there aren’t any adverts whatsoever in the main browsing view. None.

There is also a refreshing lack of any bar adverts to mar the top or bottom of the screen, either you’re looking at an advert, or you’re not. The other saving grace of the adverts here is that they’re bespoke to the onion, rather than randomly chosen iAd selections.

There are occasionally adverts at the beginning or end of video content, but they tend towards being short and entertaining.

Final Thoughts

I like the content from The Onion, it would be surprising if I didn’t at least somewhat enjoy the native iPad app. But, the truth is that the app itself is about as well designed as you could hope for – they’ve taken advantage of many of the iPad’s strengths.

If you like The Onion, download it immediately, if you don’t, then I’d probably give it a miss. If you haven’t had the joy of reading “America’s Finest News Source” yet, then you’re in for a treat…


Summary

An excellent way to consume the very best in satirical news coverage, The Onion introduces a format that allows you to touch the news.

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