Wednesday, October 23, 2013

SCOTUSblog Releases iOS App – and Disappoints

Last Thursday, October 17, revealed its first app, available through the App Store for free.  After downloading and playing with the app and comparing it to both the mobile and the full website on my phone, I decided the app left much to be desired.  Let’s just hope that the promise of regular new features and improvements made by the blog’s deputy manager comes true.

The homepage of the app is recognizable to SCOTUSblog readers: the newest post appears at the top and is truncated, as are all posts that follow. 

This, of course, allows you to easily see short bits of the latest posts without having to scroll through an entire blog post.  The posts are organized chronologically; tapping on one of the posts leads you to its full text.

Within the full text (albeit not within the short form) are hyperlinks to the various documents discussed in the post’s text.

Menu sidebar
Tapping on the menu icon on the top left of the app reveals the menu bar; there’s also a search box at the top.  Menu items include Home and a few familiar SCOTUSblog categories: Featured, Round-Up, and Breaking News.

Frankly, I was rather disappointed with the app, especially when comparing it with the mobile site (or even the full website) already in existence.  Switching from the home page in the app to a different section, such as the featured posts, was quite slow (nearly as slow as the mobile site).  

The app is incredibly pared down when contrasted with either the mobile site or the full site: the app is essentially limited to blog posts.  Missing is everything else that makes SCOTUSblog so cool: the statistics, the special features, the list of upcoming major cases, and my favorite content, namely the Plain English section, and the calendar and Term Snapshot that appear on the homepage (of the full website) of the blog.  

The few reviewers who have posted on the App Store made generic comments (“app works well;” “offers a view inside the highest court in the United States;” “quick and easy access to the analyses and round-ups”) that could easily apply to the original website or to the mobile site themselves.  Indeed, it is “[n]ot nearly as useful as the web version of the blog.”  News from around the web has been limited to reposting SCOTUSblog’s original post revealing the app and to brief descriptions of the app’s “additional features.”

The app has one additional feature not available on the full website or the mobile site, plus one feature that is slightly more convenient than on the full website, and one feature that is incredibly inconvenient when compared with either the mobile site or the website.  SCOTUSblog touted one extra benefit available on the app: the ability to receive push notifications from the app when new posts are added or when a major event happens at the Court (presumably when opinions are released or when other such breaking news occurs).  That’s pretty cool, but the excitement from receiving a push notification from SCOTUSblog’s app is noticeably diminished when, ten seconds later, Feedly (or any other RSS reader app you have on your phone) pushes you the same notification.

Both the possibly convenient feature and the inconvenient feature of the app involve social media. First, SCOTUSblog’s Twitter feed is slightly easier to access on the app than on either the mobile or full website.  In the app’s menu, one simply need click on “Twitter” to be sent to the blog’s Twitter feed, rather than scrolling down to the middle of the blog’s full website and clicking on “follow” (a bit annoying); or conducting a cumbersome search on the mobile website for Twitter (quite annoying).  

Interestingly, the app links you to only one of the blog’s Twitter feeds, @SCOTUSblog, presumably because of the greater number of followers (@SCOTUSblog, which includes tweets from the staff of SCOTUSblog, has 143,000 followers, while its cousin @SCOTUSblogposts, which only notifies followers when a blog post has posted, has a mere 4,000 followers).  

Limited sharing capability
Second, the ease of sharing is vastly better on either the full website or the mobile website than through the app.  Astonishingly, the app only allows you to share a blog post via SMS message or email.  On either the mobile site or the full website, Safari’s internal share feature offers a plethora of options from Twitter and Facebook to Weibo.  When on the full website, you can directly share a blog post on Facebook, Twitter, or email, or via a sharing widgit (which offers, in addition to the traditional Facebook and Twitter, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, and dozens of others), so long as you zoom in your phone’s screen sufficiently far to click on the appropriate button.  
Bottom line: download the app if you want to get push notifications from SCOTUSblog on your phone’s home screen.  Otherwise, stick to the mobile site or the full website, even when on your phone.  And keep an eye out for those promised improvements.

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