All the news that’s fit to print on your iPad

Dec 14, 2011

This week was a banner one for iOS and social media news apps. Twitter shifted focus and design, both on site and in-app. iOS darling Flipboard updated to include an iPhone version with a new feature making it more social, and Google launched Currents. Over the last 18 months new apps catering primarily to the […]

This week was a banner one for iOS and social media news apps. Twitter shifted focus and design, both on site and in-app. iOS darling Flipboard updated to include an iPhone version with a new feature making it more social, and Google launched Currents.

Over the last 18 months new apps catering primarily to the iPad tablet market (but spreading to iPhone) have been jumping on the magazine-format and integrating closely with social networking. Here are seven of the best which should suit almost any type of web news consumer.

The top news-app news last week, as mentioned, was Flipboard’s update to include an iPhone native version. Launched in July of 2010, Flipboard is one of the progenitors, certainly the most pressed and arguably — if they bring the updated features to iPad — the best in class. Its clean and refined GUI makes browsing both social media feeds (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, etc.) as well a host of curated news, sports, tech and entertainment sources a pleasure.

The app has always supported social sharing, but the iPhone update take social integration up a notch by creating Cover Stories that are inspired by those you follow, and promise to get better at predicting your taste over time. Their thinking and Twitter’s seem very much in line, with a shift towards discovery.

Zite, which launched early this year, is my personal favorite for iPad. Back before it was acquired by CNN, the Canadian developers were the first to serve up web news and social feeds with a still-unique predictive algorithm that learns a reader’s taste over time. It uses a thumbs-up or down system, and allows browsers to chose which topics and authors they want to follow and better still, ban.

The interface is the most elegant I’ve seen, and the reading experience most like a post-modern magazine ought to be. Zite doesn’t copy, it transforms. CNN’s influence is not apparent. The app still feels indie in the best possible sense. For learning your tastes and easy sharing Zite is tops, but it’s not so good at helping readers discover who or what is new/hot.

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Pulse came on the scene in May of 2010, making it the grandpa on this list. Over time the news aggregator for iPad has worked to include social media integration, encourage sharing and launched a separate iPhone version earlier this year. Like the others on the list, there are plenty of sharing options, but the focus is really on a timeline from any of the curated or added sources, with a stripped reader and web viewer placed where it’s easiest to spot, if not necessarily easiest to read. It’s an excellent option for quick browsing, but a little cluttered for my taste.

Taptu (formerly My Taptu) sneaked into the App Store at the tail end of last year, and calls itself a DJ service. The GUI is a lot like Pulse’s: utilitarian, but comfortable on any iOS device. It has much more social network integration, and of all the apps on this list, does the best job of making Google Reader RSS feeds actually readable.

Google Currents has been getting lots of press well beyond the iOS world with the Android app garnering the most attention. But, the fact that Google has for once done a better than barely-adequate job adapting a service for iOS makes it newsworthy in its own right. Google is the latest Internet giant to jump into this hybrid social network and news magazine market. The app lacks any way to learn a reader’s preferences, a big oversight in something so new, but serves up a wide selection of web news sources. It does an admirable job on the discovery end with easily accessible trending stories. One big drawback is load time. During testing, the app was constantly syncing.

Needless to say Google promotes sharing on it Google+ network most prominently, but a second tap on the sharing options, reveals rivals Twitter and Facebook have not been shut out. This is a launch version, with promise. As Google+ grows, it should be interesting to see where the app follows and if the iOS iteration gets the attention it should.

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Livestand by Yahoo! entered the market a few months ago with an iPad-only offering. The premise here is providing readers a real-time customized news-magazine experience. The app really goes for personalization, offering everything from a stock ticker that follows what its told to, to local weather, even horoscopes.

The design is very appealing, creating the most cohesive look of any of its ilk in the App Store. The Personal Mix is the key feature, and each device can hold four different user profiles. Yahoo! alone seems to get that most homes have multiple users sharing such an expensive toy. But like Google’s offering it lacks any like/dislike option to adapt to an individual’s preferences and the current curated content is sparse. In terms of promise, Livestand is worth watching too.

Editions by AOL is my least favorite on this list, but bears mentioning because it was the first of the Internet giants to throw its hat into the iPad (only) news magazine ring. If you don’t mind reading in landscape mode, the app creates a rather cool and very magazine-like cover down to the fake mailing label and bar code. But, the way it integrates social media, like serving up Facebook birthdays, not feeds, and its further integration with the iPad native calendar just don’t make a lot of practical sense.

The app is the least innovative, borrowing the like/dislike formula from Zite, the social network integration from Flipbook and following the general trend towards serving web news in magazine-style. The results are not an improvement, however, rather a cobbled-together, visually unappealing and somewhat cumbersome package. It’s slow to load, and prone to crashing. But, thousands of users rate it favorably — that’s what lists are for: different strokes for different folks.

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Lisa Caplan

Lisa Caplan writes app lists and guides as well as reviewing iOS apps and games on various tech sites, most recently on her fledgling iPhone and iPad giveaway blog, AppTudes. She is thrilled to be joining the stellar reviewing team at Appolicious. Located in a balmy Montreal suburb, Lisa has an advanced degree in Creative Writing, and has had an Apple computer by her side since 1979! She is a talentless art nut, bibliophile and accessory junkie. Lisa looks forward to sharing her gaming addiction and love for all tech that promotes culture, communication, social awareness and education at every level.

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