I’ve been holding off from highlighting the New York Times Reader as one of the applications in my portfolio for a few weeks, even though it clearly is a polished example of how WPF can transform user experience. Today, we can finally reveal one more little secret, with the announcement of three more amazing news reading applications: from the Daily Mail in the UK (owned by Associated Newspapers), forbes.com and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here (owned by Hearst Corporation).
From the early days of Avalon (as it was then known), we made a pretty hefty investment in improving the text reading experience. You can see this at every level of the stack:
- In ClearType, we implemented sub-pixel positioning and y-direction smoothing. Studies done by the University of Texas show that ClearType increases reading speed by 5-7% with no reduction in comprehension.
- Within the rendering stack, support for OpenType features such as ligatures, contextual alternates, traditional numerals and swashes improve readability and allow for greater freedom of expression by designers.
- At the document level, the implementation of flow content allows semantics to be applied to text such that it can automatically reflow across multiple columns and pages, with embedded headers and footers, figures, floaters, tables, lists and formatting and support for dynamic resizing of the containing element.
Combining these three capabilities together provide a major set of enhancements over traditional web-based interfaces: instead of a fixed column of text with fixed pagination and limited font support, you have tremendous flexibility, control and customization over the reading experience. As a simple example of this, click here if you have .NET Framework 3.0 on your machine – this is simply a loose XAML file and two PNG images – no code, nothing beyond regular XAML markup. That’s what the platform provides out of the box in WPF.
When we started to work with the New York Times, it was clear that we could go still further by creating a client-side Windows application that applied these technologies. And so we collaborated with them to build a full reader application that supplements the above services with ink and text annotations, advertisement support, offline synchronization, integrated search, dynamic retrieval of new articles from custom RSS feeds, and smart templates. We launched the New York Times reader together last fall, and it remains available today free of charge from the New York Times website.
What most people didn’t realize was that this wasn’t a one-off application; we’ve been working ever since to turn that same reader code into a more generic toolkit that any web content publisher can use to create their own custom reading experience. The launch today of these new reading experiences demonstrates the flexibility and attractiveness of the toolkit; even a cursory examination of the four readers side-by-side shows how each newspaper has been able to tailor the reader application for their own brand and needs.
The Daily Mail is presented in a tabloid format as a newspaper, with oversized headlines and a different reader demographic to the high-brow New York Times. Compared to the other two newspapers, their stories are typically somewhat shorter and photos play a greater role: as a result, they have a different template. The Seattle P-I newsreader has a distinctive typeface and a template closer in style to the New York Times reader; a couple of innovations they’ve implemented include an archival capability that allows you to read news from previous editions, as well as a Windows Vista sidebar gadget that shows the latest stories and acts as an entry point into the main application. All four readers share support for offline reading and integrated search.
This is just the start: at the moment the toolkit is in a private beta, but in a few months time we’ll be releasing the reader SDK more broadly so that anyone can build a similar customized application. Once you’ve implemented support for RSS feeds with custom extensions to support the reader functionality, it’s a relatively short step to getting an initial application up and running. Expect to see many more similar news readers appearing over the next weeks and months.
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reader
- Daily Mail eReader
- New York Times Reader
- Forbes.com Newsreader (live soon)
I shouldn’t forget to highlight IdentityMine, who customized the forbes.com and Seattle P-I readers, and Conchango, who worked on the Daily Mail eReader. These are two great WPF partners who did an excellent job on all these applications.