The ABC iPhone app is one of the most versatile and best free apps available on the app store. This afternoon, Manuela Davidson from the ABC innovation group gave me an early hands on with an early Alpha version of their upcoming iPad app.
The ABC iPad app is still a few weeks away from becoming available, despite the fact that the iPad hits shelves tomorrow. It's also not the iView app we've heard about. The app the ABC showed me is best described as a specialised version of their iPhone app, customised for use on a tablet device.
There are a few different areas to the ABC iPad app. Let's break them down one by one.
The Home page When you open the app, this is what you'll see. At the top of the page, there's a hero bar with top stories from one of the four major categories available in the app: Latest news, latest entertainment, latest vodcast and latest audio podcast. You can cycle through each hero article, touching it to open it, or you can have the app cycle through them automatically.
Below the hero bar, there are each of those four categories, with three sets of four of the latest articles, that swipe across just like in the iTunes store. The app can handle up to 20 stories in each strip, but the alpha version previewed to me only had 12 in each.
At the top of the page is a content button with shortcuts to all the content stored on the app, as well as a settings button which allows you to set your location for up to date weather information, ABC1 EPG (which wasn't available in the build I saw) and local news.
The News page While on the home page, you can easily opt into one of the four category sites by selecting the "All" button next to the category name. For News, this will bring you to a page with a double header, including the latest key story and ABC TV's news in 90 seconds, which offers five top news story videos in less than 90 seconds. Because of their brevity, these clips will be watchable over 3G.
Below the two heroes, news articles are broken down into categories. You can scroll down with a swipe to discover new categories of news stories, or swipe each category sideways to discover more stories on the same topic. Selecting the story you want to read works exactly as you'd expect it to.
The News Story Page The news story pages are pretty basic. There's a pic on the left (which couldn't be enlarged in the Alpha, but that may change in the future) alongside a share button that let's you email, tweet or Facebook the story, and a text size button up the top. Along the bottom is a film strip of other stories that you can navigate to directly. By launch, you should be able to swipe the page to get to the next article, but that wasn't functional in the Alpha build.
The Video page News is one thing, but what about video? Well, ultimately it's very similar to the news page, with two hero vodcasts, with different genres of video content below. Clicking through will bring up the individual video and relevant information, although you can also navigate to particular programs.
Videos You can start watching videos in landscape mode while you read about the episode's content, but rotate the iPad into landscape and the video rotates with you. You still need to manually select full screen though.
The ABC has increased the resolution of their videos for the launch of their iPad app from 320x180 to 582x288. It's still far from high resolution, but it does allow the content to stream fairly well, and doesn't look too bad on the iPad's screen. The ABC also plan on increasing that resolution again later this year, although they wouldn't say to what quality.
At launch, you'll only be able to access the latest episodes of programs, but soon afterwards the ABC plans on expanding the content to the last 14 days worth of episodes for that program.
Audio The audio page is almost identical to the video page, except like the iPhone app it allows for live streaming of ABC stations like Triple J, Radio National and News Radio (plus others) directly over 3G. There's also a limited amount of multitasking available within the app in that you can start listening to live radio while reading news articles or navigating through the various components of the app.
Conclusion In terms of using the app over 3G, the ABC have decided to limit that to either 30 minute podcasts or sizes of 30MB to try and limit people experiencing bill shock. Fortunately, that includes the 90 second news story videos.
Overall, despite the fact the version of the app I experienced is still in its early stages and quite buggy, it's also really exciting. Considering it will be a free app when it launches, it's pretty hard to be critical of it...