I doubt there’s a single news organisation in the world that doesn’t receive criticism. It’s part and parcel of the industry; especially today, when everyone can voice opinions online. The butt of many jokes, including their own, is FOX for apparently being biased and sensationalist.
Al Jazeera is flamed quite often as well; some of it just, some of it not. The criticism of Al Jazeera often descends beyond the reasonable and into a ‘dey took ar jobs’ uproar simply because ‘real’ reporting can touch nerves. It’s this realistic reporting that keeps them in my daily news feeds.
As an Android user, their app was one of my most used, but least favoured. It was essentially a skin for their mobile site – and a very old, decrepit skin that should never have seen the light of day in the first place. Their new app however – well, they’ve turned the game around altogether.
This was the main downfall of the previous incarnation of the Al Jazeera application for Android. It simply didn’t work.
With the new version, all that has changed. They’ve started from scratch and built a very easy-to-use news app with several different interesting features that complement the network well.
Homescreen and Articles
The news and video sections are quite similar in their layout. My favourite aspect of them is the geographic filter along the top of the screen: with the simple slide of a finger you can decide where you want the displayed media to come from – Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and so on.
Each section has its ‘headline’ story normally accompanied by a large photograph and description with older or less prominent stories listed below. Articles load quickly because of the simple nature of the app’s interface. They mostly consist of a headline, image and article body.
Anyone familiar with the regular Al Jazeera website will know that videos tend to accompany almost all news articles. In the app, however, the videos are resigned to their own section for quicker loading times.
Blogs and Picture Gallery
The ‘In Pictures’ section loads a huge photographic gallery displaying shots from all over the world with that day’s news as the main focus. Sadly, it doesn’t display full photographic essays; just a random collection from all over.
The Spotlight section uses the slider at the top of the screen to change which news topic you’re interested in. So instead of defining by locale you can select individual issues such as ‘Syria’ and ‘Egypt’s Revolution’ or topical hashtags like ‘#occupywallstreet’.
The actual Al Jazeera TV station is free-to-air, meaning that it can be viewed by anyone willing to install a satellite dish and buy an off-the-shelf set-top box. However, my roof is slippery and I’m a poor student. Thankfully I can watch Al Jazeera on my phone thanks to the live stream feature of their application. The speed and sound are pretty good on a 3G connection and even better over WiFi.
There is but one major flaw in the new Al Jazeera app which really bugs me: the lack of social media integration. Half the stuff they’re reporting about in the Arab Spring has been spurred on by Youtube and Twitter, yet they don’t allow their application users to tweet stories? This is a huge step in the wrong direction from the previous version which did allow you to share news stories, pictures and videos on numerous social networks.
The minute this app came to life on my phone it was clear they’d put some real effort into the design. The homescreen looks fantastic. I think there’s a trend of overcomplicating news applications in a thinly-veiled effort to increase their credibility. Poppycock. When reading an article on a relatively small screen I want minimalism to be the order of the day.
Minimalist design and colour scheme
The colouring and layout of the Al Jazeera app follows the clear-cut style Al Jazeera English use in all their endeavours, and the lack of silly icons, logos and ticker-tape news feeds only further enhances the delicate features.
I found it hard not to like anything this app threw at me visually. All the pictures render well and the navigation features are well proportioned. It might not be innovative or groundbreaking but it looks good.
Your decision as to whether or not to download the Al Jazeera shouldn’t be based on whether or not it’s a good application. Trust me, it is. Your decision should be based on how you like your news. Admittedly, Al Jazeera don’t report feel-good ‘local hero’ stories or ‘celeb gossip’. You’re more likely to wake up to headlines about rebellions, war, famine, and peacekeeping, and opinion pieces concerning this big bad world we live in. We all have different tastes in the kind of news we digest with our morning coffee and if that’s your kind of news then I extend my sincerest of recommendations.