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Sky News app brings live news and archive to iPad

Sky News' new app brings the 24-hour rolling news ethos to the iPad with aplomb -- we go hands-on with the latest way to watch current affairs on your tablet.

Sky News' strength is focusing on the big stories, and its new app brings the 24-hour news ethos to the iPad with aplomb. As well as a live stream of the telly channel, which you can rewind to catch the beginning of a segment, there are plenty of fresh ways to take a look at the latest stories on your tablet.

The latest Sky News coverage is chopped up into segments of several minutes, which are displayed on a timeline on the app's home screen. This maintains the urgency of the channel's live broadcast, while letting you swipe to scroll into the past and select what interests you most. But yesterday's news is fish-wrapping, and you can only scroll for a few hours into the past.

There's also a view that serves up top stories based on importance, in a grid that reminds us of the Newsmap visualisation of Google News. You see older stories here, but the emphasis is still on the big four or five stories of the day.

When you tap on a story, a video stream is featured in the centre of the iPad's screen, surrounded by supporting material such as photo galleries, interactive graphics and written articles. The video continues to play in a thumbnail window in the corner while you partake in this info-bounty. The sound won't play in the background if you switch out of the Sky News app to Google a factoid in your browser, however.

Sky News' enthusiastic animated graphics haven't been used to jazz up the app, with transitions smooth and sober in our early hands-on tests. Each major story gets a themed background image, however, such as the fireball of an explosion that looms over a Japanese town, which luridly illustrates coverage of the nuclear emergency in that country. 

In our tests, the interactive graphics felt superficial, although we think they had potential. A map of Libya, for example, linked to video and photos shot by Sky News. But some examples, such as a single photo of a man brandishing a gun against a blank sky, did little to illuminate the complexities of the situation. 

We did like the option to view the back story of each video, however, which brought up a timeline of past coverage linked to the same event.

The app also feels like a quality bit of kit. We spotted a few typos here and there, but we didn't suffer any crashes or bugs in our tests.

For now the iPhone app hasn't had the same refresh -- it serves up a list of stories that's similar to most mobile-optimised news sites. But last week, Sky said that it's actively investigating BlackBerry and Android apps too, the Guardian reported.  

The Sky News iPad app is free from iTunes for now, but Sky says it will require an in-app subscription "in the near future", unless you already pay for Sky.

Overall, Sky News' app wins points with us for capturing the immediacy of live news while chucking in plenty of helpful, interactive features in a whizzy, elegant user interface. If you like getting your news from the daily firehose of facts that is Sky News, the iPad app turns up the pressure even higher.

Meanwhile, the BBC has confirmed it's also seeing plenty of success in broadcasting to the iPad. People watched 2 million programmes last month on the tablet, up from 1.6 million in January.