It’s been just over a year since The Ken launched and it’s also been just over a year since we started receiving requests for an app. Our subscribers have been asking us for an app so regularly that at one point I suspected it was a Russian government-sponsored operation.
So here it is – version 1.0 of The Ken’s native apps for our iOS and Android subscribers.
You’ll notice we said “subscribers”, and not users. That’s by design. Our apps are exclusively for our paid subscribers, for now.
Why? Primarily because a lot of our app’s features are tied to the quality of access people using them will have to our stories. For instance, our home page is a nifty and dynamic reading list.
Subscribers can customize the home page to suit their preferences in literally dozens of unique combinations. In contrast, free subscribers (who only have access to roughly 20% of our journalism), will find the app either overkill (for just a few stories) or frustrating (because 80% of stories will be behind a paywall).
But that’s just one of the many thoughtful features we’ve built for our subscribers. Don’t take our word for it – use it.
Which came first? The user need or the app?
“Why do you want an app? What’s wrong with just a good, responsive web site? And who opens an app to read just one article?” asked Abhisek Sarda, the founder of Beard Design.
It was November 2016 and we were discussing the scope of our design project. I wanted Beard Design to help us build a new website and design our mobile apps too. But Abhisek was unconvinced.
The Ken had launched just a month ago and our “design” was a premium WordPress theme that cost us around $20-30. While that was “good enough” to get us off to a great start, we knew it wasn’t what our paying subscribers deserved.
I didn’t have very clear answers for Abhisek, because I wasn’t very clear myself. On the one hand we knew that most of our subscribers were past “peak apps”. They didn’t want to download and install more apps on their phones and would prefer access that was easy and fast.
But I also saw the steady trickle of paid subscribers asking for an app. Still, I convinced Abhisek and Beard Design to still go ahead, albeit a little reluctantly.
But once they were on board, Beard Design switched mode rapidly and tried to figure out why a subscriber would install and use our apps.
“The challenge really was to make the app useful – before making it a delight to use. The content was already easy to access with the daily email and the reading experience was already great on the web”, recalls Abhisek
So, we agreed that the core reading experience, whether on our site or on our apps, would essentially be the same.
“While we’ve retained the much appreciated reading experience from The Ken’s website, we’ve built a whole host of peripheral experiences around it”, says Abhisek.
(Special) Peripheral Experiences
The first of these peripheral features to go into the app was an intelligent queue. We’re aware many of our subscribers may not find the time each morning to read our stories “hot off the press”, which then tends to become a growing backlog as the days and weeks go by.
Thus, the primary feature for our apps is an easy way for subscribers to keep on top of our daily stories. In fact, our home screen is a smart queue.
Each story has a progress indicator – reminding you to finish a story you left half-read when you got that call from your mom or boss.
Save stories for offline reading (one of the most requested features) within The Ken app itself and highlight interesting snippets, that are saved separately.
Then there’s comments. Getting comments right is almost akin to boiling the Internet ocean, but hey, we’ve tried.
One reason why Slack is so popular and addictive is because of the ease with which it merged comments and threads. In contrast, comments on websites are often a bunch of disjoint to-and-fro experiences.
In our apps, comments are like conversation threads that can be viewed, interacted with and exited, without breaking the flow. It almost makes it like chatting with other subscribers who are also reading and commenting.
From where you are, you can open comments, go back and forth, see your comments and replies. All without having to go back into articles. It’s almost like a Slack channel, for every article.
This is only “version 1.0”. Expect us to surprise you with newer features (we’re already working on them) every now and then.