Since this has been a relatively tepid tech news week — the U.S. debut of the Spotify music service, Netflix’ controversial new pricing plans, and a cheaper ad-supported Kindle with AT&T cellular support notwithstanding — I thought this would be a good time to talk about news in the App Age, and to share with you some of the apps I enjoy using.
While I would argue that news content hasn’t changed significantly — it’s always been responsive to the dynamics of every age (ours no less than for other generations) — news presentation has become radically different. This app collection is a good showcase for how today's wide range of presentation models affects our involvement with that content.
Most of these apps are available cross-platform. iOS apps (for iPhones and iPads) are available only from the Apple App Store; Android apps can be found in the Android Market, the Amazon App Store and, occasionally, direct from developers.
I tend to categorize my own apps into news brands (New York Times, BBC) and news aggregators (Google News, Yahoo News). Let’s start with the aggregators, where I believe the most innovations in presentations are taking place.
Google Reader is the source for a variety of apps. A browser-based service, it initially presents a variety of popular websites, then gives you the opportunity to customize the choices to your own tastes and “subscribe” to the various sites for their headlines. (Google Reader is one of many news aggregators, or RSS feeds, but is certainly among the most popular.)
I subscribe to well over 100 feeds. In Google Reader, I’ve set up 16 folders to cover my interests: Android, Apple, Microsoft, Movies, etc. Each folder contains multiple sites: I follow 12 for Android news and 10 for Apple.
On my iPad and iPhone, I use 3 Google Reader variants because of the unique ways they display feeds (these are iOS apps only):
•Feeddler (free; $4.99 for ad-free version) is extremely efficient in bringing up my Google Reader subscriptions quickly. It’s a bare-bones app, meaning it gives me the name of one of my subscriptions, shows me the headlines, then lets me tap on a story to read the first few paragraphs. I can hit the “more” link and I’m taken directly to the original page where the story was first posted.
•Reeder ($4.99) is slower, but it arranges my news by dates. Each entry has a headline and a partial first sentence. I use my finger to scroll down the list of headlines until I discover something worth reading. Example: Here’s a headline from Autoblog: “Video: Woman’s truck rammed because attacker thought she looked like Casey Anthony.” Yup: all the news . . .
•Early Edition ($4.99) is the slowest of the Google Reader apps. It takes several minutes to pull up all my stories, but it presents my news in a newspaper-like format: major headlines in boldface, often with a picture; a variety of smaller headlines are clustered below. But no human editor is selecting the stories, so while the newspaper format is comforting to the eye, don’t expect that the app is curating stories in any meaningful order.
All these apps let you share your interests with others through email, social media, etc.
On the Android side, I use FeedR (free) for my Google Reader. It updates my subscriptions relatively quickly, and displays a green light when a subscription has been updated. Sharing stories is simple; links to email is displayed on each page. (Note: Google also has its own Google Reader app but I found it clumsier to use than FeedR.
My other favorite news aggregators include:
•Skygrid offers highly personalized news, and is one of my most frequently used news apps. It’s specifically set for people with specific interests who can ask the app to “follow” a given topic. Once the topic is listed, Skygrid’s search engines canvas a wide variety of sources to fulfill those requests. I have some of the usual suspects — Apple, iPad, etc. — but then I’ve asked to follow news of Xbox as a set-top box; e.g., no gaming news. It does the job well. One minor quibble: While I have the app on both iOS and Android, topics have to be set up in each app separately.
•News360 (free for iOS and Android). This is a well-conceived app offering many points of view on a given story in a well-designed format. In the left-hand column, I have a choice of multiple topics: top stories, world, U.S., business, etc. In each category, stories are listed with an initial source (“Apple Scores Early Patent Victory” from TheStreet.com), but then lists many more sites to see the story from different points of view. For the Apple story, 47 additional sources are listed. I can also set up my own favorite topics: either pre-selected or I can design my own.
•Flipboard (free, iOS only) is truly a unique fancy news reader, heavily canted to social media fans. As soon as I open it on my iPad, the app's front page is full of full-screen photos from multiple sources, from The Guardian to photos posted by my friends on my Facebook page. They crawl slowly across my page even before I swipe the “flip” button and open the app. Inside, I can open various sites I’ve chosen, or go to the “More” ribbon at the top of the page and see multiple topics containing multiple sites. Stories are presented in magazine-layout format: 2-3 stories per page.
While Flipboard in my book is for more casual reading — I usually prefer access to Google Reader-like headlines — it’s definitely a signpost for how other news media may present their wares in the future. It makes The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s vaunted new-generation iPad magazine, look old-fashioned and stodgy. They also appear quite serious about striving for Internet supremacy: they just hired Time Magazine stalwart Josh Quittner as their editorial director.
•Pulse (free, iOS and Android) is yet another visual variant. When I open Pulse, a number of websites are available on the left side of the screen, and their stories horizontally stream ribbon-like to the right. A full page is given over to each story.
What about traditional single source news sites?
•ABC News (free, iOS and Android) is a good resource for a variety of the network’s news. The iPad version features a revolving ball that allows you to pick the stories from a different interface. It’s a fun feature but not all that necessary. ABC will run live video on its site when appropriate; today I watched construction underway from my iPad on the Mulholland Bridge spanning Los Angeles’ San Diego/405 Freeway (“Carmageddon”).
•Al Jazeera (free, iOS and Android). What an extraordinary news revelation Al Jazeera has turned out to be. If “serious” journalism is alive and kicking anywhere in the world, Al Jazeera is definitely among the major league players in this field. People who haven’t watched it may think it’s all-Arab news all the time, but I watched it religiously during the Japanese tsunami/nuclear meltdown tragedy. It provides excellent live video plus a healthy roundup of news in depth on a variety of subjects in text, photo galleries and video.
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