Up until now, Hardbound has been focused on sharing stories that educate users about a particular topic, such as How Explosions Work or How the Electoral College Became a Thing. Each hand-crafted narrative takes advantage of a touch-first mobile platform by using text, visuals, and interesting transitions to tell a story that users can simply swipe through. You could say each story is a top-quality Prezi focused on an interesting topic.
The Nightcap represents a new direction for Hardbound. The old form of educational stories will continue under the app's first tab, Hardbound Weekly, but it is now joined by a second tab dedicated to The Nightcap.
The Nightcap is a curated summary of some of the top news stories of the day, produced and published every Monday-Thursday night. It consists of six of the day's most important or interesting news stories, as determined by the Hardbound team. The first three of those stories garner more attention, each receiving about eight pages of content, while the latter three are summarized on one page each.
For anyone who regularly views Snapchat Stories, Twitter Moments, or Instagram Stories, The Nightcap will feel very familiar. You simply tap or swipe through each page of the story. Taps will always move you forward one page, while swipes can take you either backwards or forward. A progress bar at the bottom of the screen helps you keep track of how much you've read. Alternately, you can also swipe down at any point and find a precise record of which page you're on and how many pages there are total in that edition of The Nightcap.
The design of stories in The Nightcap is perhaps its biggest strength. Pages are clean, with easily readable text and quality photos. I love how each main story begins with a visual 1, 2, or 3 indicator, and that number then moves to the top-left corner for the entirety of the story to give you an ever present sense of context. Another nice touch is that each of the main stories ends with a single "Our Take" page containing brief commentary from Hardbound's editors. The decision to keep commentary separate from the main content of each story and use it as a bookend was a good one. I'm also glad they've decided to keep that commentary short and sweet so it doesn't outweigh the actual story.
In the past when I tried Hardbound, I found its stories to contain too much variation in content placement and transition types from page to page. For some people I'm sure it's fine, but it was never an enjoyable experience for me. I don't like having to move my eyes with each new page to find the text; I prefer for text to stay in a somewhat predictable place on the screen. The Nightcap, at least to this point, seems to stick with more predictable content placement and simpler transitions. For my tastes at least, this is a big improvement and provides a more pleasant reading experience.
I do have a couple of concerns about The Nightcap that deserve mentioning. I share those concerns in the context of a day and age in which fake news is an issue and people increasingly get their news from places like Facebook rather than traditional media outlets.
My first concern is that each edition of The Nightcap is devoid of links to source articles. The first page of each story lists the story's source authors and publisher, but currently there are no links given to original articles. If you want to read more about a particular story, or fact check The Nightcap's summary to verify it's an accurate reflection of the story, there is no way to do that from within the app. Instead you'll have to perform a search in your preferred browser and hope you can easily find the source.
My second concern is related to the first one. While each of The Nightcap's three main stories contain references to their source articles, the three single-page stories that follow typically contain no sources at all. No links to sources, no references to sources – nothing. I understand it must be difficult to fit a full story onto a single page, but in my opinion references should be mandatory.
I applaud the Hardbound team for creating a product that's intended to better educate a mobile-first generation. Making news simple and compact is a move that will likely win over some people who would never have bothered to keep up with news before, or whose only news digest comes from reading headlines as they scroll their News Feed. Increased education is a good thing, but there's more that Hardbound's team can and should do.
The Nightcap is an interesting, well-polished news tool. It makes the day's stories quick and easy to digest, and it does so with style. Even if you've tried Hardbound before and found it wasn't for you, it is certainly worth checking out again for The Nightcap. I look forward to the notification this evening informing me that today's edition of The Nightcap is live.
Hardbound for iPhone is available on the App Store as a free download.