iPhone News Apps
These days, more and more people are getting their news from their smartphones rather than from newspapers or their computers. On the iPhone, news apps tend to fall into one of three general categories: they either provide portals into the content on websites for paper or broadcast news sources, provide or curate content for users, or allow users to follow their own news sources/RSS feeds. This AppGuide primarily focuses on the second category, as most of the apps in the first category are very similar in layout and content, and the third category has its own AppGuide. The differences in these apps are often subtle, and which one you prefer can hinge on how much content you are looking for and how much effort you are willing (or want) to put in to customizing that content.
Feedly: Your Google Reader, Youtube, Google News, RSS News Reader
Feedly excels on the iPhone, as its mix of a clean layout with photos and just enough text is perfect for reading news on the smaller screen. Although focused on Google Reader integration, Feedly functions perfectly well as a standalone app, as it includes a selection of feeds to browse as well as the ability to add your own. The swiping and tapping interface allows for one-handed use and quick scrolling through top news. The only issue with Feedly is that it only caches and formats the portion of the article it gets from an RSS feed, which means that many long articles can only be read in a web view.
Flipboard: Your Social News Magazine
Flipboard deserves its spot as one of the best known news and content aggregation apps on the iOS platform. The app is beautifully designed, optimized for iPhone use, can be connected to most social media accounts, and now even supports podcasts and music via an in-app player. Flipboard’s true power lies in its content catalog, which includes many of the biggest names in blogs and news, any website with an RSS feed or Twitter account, and, most importantly, content chosen by Flipboard staff and other interesting personalities. These curated topics are similar to sections in a newspaper, but they combine information from many different sources— it is essentially a folder in an RSS reader, only you don’t have to create it. More, Flipboard continually updates its catalog and creates new curated topics for timely events; for example, in March, I used Flipboard’s NCAA March Madness section to help fill out my bracket. The app is very responsive, but lacks a list or headline-only view, which is likely to disappoint those who want a quick overview of current news. Although there is room for improvement (e.g., the ability to add more sources to your flipboard), Flipboard is still a top option for news reading on the iPhone.
USA TODAY for iPhone
The recently-updated USA Today app seems designed to replicate the feeling, if not the exact experience, of reading the paper newspaper. The app opens with a scrollable list of top stories, but all the familiar sections from the paper are easily accessible (and color coded!) via a button in the corner. To make reading on the iPhone's smaller screen easier, the sections are subdivided multiple times, which insures that you will see the content you want most. The one glaring omission is support for the landscape orientation, which is something they will hopefully correct in the next update. The app could also be speedier, but its subtle lag is explained by the fact that it formats all the articles for easy reading before displaying them.
CNN App for iPhone
CNN collects all of the top stories in multiple categories and optimizes their presentation for reading on the iPhone’s screen. All articles are formatted and include helpful bullet point summaries under the headline to facilitate quick reading, and many link to video. Users can also view local news, live tv (if their cable provider is supported), and even submit stories via “iReport.” CNN supports push notifications and following specific topics.
The New York Times is widely considered one of the most prestigious names in news, which makes its iPhone app a must-have. Non-subscribers are limited to viewing “top news,” but that covers a wide range and the rest of the app’s functionality, including push notifications, is intact. Articles are well-formatted and load quickly, but the use of an animated banner ad in the bottom of the screen (even for subscribers and occasionally in full screen mode) detracts from the reading experience.
The Guardian for iPhone
The Guardian offers more functionality than others in its class, with no hidden costs! Users can view all sections of the paper, select sections for offline use, send articles to Twitter, Facebook, or email, and even search articles. The Guardian app has a unique tagging feature that puts a tag icon on articles that, when pushed, displays related subjects.
Taptu - DJ your News
Taptu uses a similar layout to the more popular Pulse, with both vertical and horizontal navigation through feeds, but offers more customization options. The app rewards users who are willing to spend the time to learn its quirks, as it supports creating your own categories with multiple feeds and even modifying the ones curated by Taptu. The app can also link to and add content from multiple social networks.
News360 for iPhone: Your Personalized News Reader
News360 is a news aggregator that emphasizes actual news stories above all else. The app divides news into categories you can scroll through in a list or photo-centric view, and is very quick to load pages. News360‘s most impressive feature is that it collects all the articles about a particular story and presents them as a single clickable headline, so that you can read the resulting article from any of the included news sources. If you choose to connect News360 to your other social networks (Facebook, Google, Twitter) or create an account, the app will learn what you like and tailor its content to match your interests, but this isn’t necessary. News360, however, does not provide the ability to add your own sources or topics or send links to an original article (links in emails go to News360’s page with all of the articles on the topic).
Pulse: Your News, Blog, Magazine and Social Reader
Pulse News is a top news aggregator that links to multiple social and sharing networks and can be further customized by creating a unique log-in. Pulse separates news into categories and provides its own curated section for each one, but allows you to add your preferred sources as well. Although the interface is designed for swiping and ease of use, it is a bit cluttered and busy.
Newstream - Personalized Newspaper
Newstream allows users to add feeds from the web, Twitter, and/or Tumblr and then formats each one to resemble a traditional newspaper. The app’s presentation is nearly flawless and makes browsing feeds more attractive. Newstream, however, does not include any preloaded content or even suggested content and does not support the landscape orientation.
Zite Personalized Magazine
Zite is personalized content curation for very busy people who have few privacy concerns. The idea behind Zite is that, if you connect your Twitter, Pocket, and/or Google Reader account, the app’s software presents you with the content it thinks you most want to read. If you choose not to link accounts, Zite will simply display the news sections you select from its long list. The app is attractive and the layout is optimized on the iPhone’s small screen, but it isn’t as polished or responsive as some other apps.
NewsMix is another news aggregation app that provides some sections upon launch but requires users to create an account or connect an existing account to add more content. Much of the content seems to come from Twitter; in fact, a few sources are Twitter lists.
News Republic is best thought of as a more news-focused version of Flipboard (or at least its interface). The app’s layout is composed of tiles representing news categories you’ve selected with information from many different sources. The layout is clean with article thumbnails displayed in scrollable pages, but the large animated ad at the bottom makes it difficult to concentrate on the articles.
Google Currents requires a Google account to log-in, which will be an immediate turn off to some and a bonus to others. Users of Google Reader will find many of their feeds already in the app, with options to add ones that were not already part of the app’s built in library of sources. The library includes many of the most popular news sources, and seems to have no limit on the number you can add (apart from the possibility of the app crashing). The layout is clean and easy to read, even on the iPhone’s smaller screen, but the app is overall a bit sluggish, uses generic-looking icons, and often fails to display the entire title of an article.
The AP Mobile app has content in nearly every conceivable category, including big stories, local news, videos, technology, travel, and health. However, the presentation makes the content less appealing. The app puts a status bar at the top of your screen, an ad at the bottom, requires users to wait for each article to load, and uses an unattractive font.
Flud is essentially a social RSS reader. Unlike other news aggregators, Flud doesn’t offer curated content categories in its list of sources, although it does support adding sources from Google Reader, Twitter, or Facebook in addition to listed sources or searched-for websites. Flud’s real draw is its ability to connect with other users and “flud” (or share) content you like. If that is something that appeals to you, Flud will be your new favorite; if not, you’re better off with other apps.
Press Reader is an app designed for anyone who misses reading their news in print. The app provide users is a portal for access to over 2,100 newspapers from all over the world via a per-issue or monthly subscription model (after a seven issue free tryout). Although PressReader includes top stories formatted for the iPhone, it is really only likely to be useful for those willing to pay.
SkyGrid’s falls somewhere between the traditional news app and a content aggregator like Flipboard. The app includes top news from multiple categories and sections with categories like those you would find in a newspaper, but also allows users to add their own content. The photo-heavy grid interface is attractive, but slow to load.