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The WSJ iPhone App and Negative App Store Reviews

The WSJ iPhone App and App Store Reviews

Jakob Nielsen at UseIt.com offers an interesting breakdown of the issues behind the design of the WSJ iPhone app’s initial login screen, which is causing customers to leave negative iTunes reviews as they think the newspaper is forcing existing subscribers to pay again to read content on the iPhone. That is not true (subscribers of wsj.com can access the app for free), but according to Nielsen a poorly designed login screen that puts the focus on new subscriptions and registrations, rather than login, is tricking users to believe that existing subscriptions don’t count against iPhone access.

Wildly persistent users might notice the much smaller Log In area at the bottom of the startup screen. However, they’re unlikely to press this button because their experience with the app so far has taught them that they must register (and pay extra) before being allowed to log in.

Those few users who do press Log In will finally see that they can use their existing www.wsj.com credentials to access the app. However, as the many negative App Store reviews attest, few users ever make it this far.

The full report with screenshots of the WSJ iPhone app and proposed mockups to address the issue is available here. Subscriptions and logins for existing subscribers have always presented usability problems for developers of mobile newspapers and magazine apps, struggling to find the best way to promote both new subscriptions and free access for existing, paying customers. Apple wants to improve the process with its native subscription system based on iTunes accounts, and indeed several publications are experimenting with the new APIs provided by Apple to offer web-based login screens that allow for new registrations and iTunes subscriptions, like The New York Times did in its latest app update.