Material: Blogs, news & RSS tailored to your social footprint (Free) by INQ is a personalized reading experience right on your iPhone. It is similar to the likes of Flipboard.
While I used Flipboard in the beginning, it was not really a “life-changing” app (as Robert Scoble originally put it) for me. In fact, while it definitely looked pretty, I just couldn’t really get into it, and I ended up deleting it after a while. I think it was more because Flipboard took everything in my social media feeds and turned it into a magazine, including things like images and silly extras like that, not necessarily just news articles. Fortunately, Material is more to my liking — it only features articles and actual reading material.
When you launch Material for the first time, it will prompt you for your Twitter and/or Facebook accounts. Once you link these up, the app will begin combing through them to find relevant links shared by your friends and then create an “edition” based on what is in your social feeds. The interface itself is minimal, clean, and elegant. It is also rather “flat,” so Material will definitely fit in nicely with the overall scheme of iOS 7. The categories that appear in your personalized editions will be color-coded, so everything is easy to find.
The main view of Material will be whichever category of articles appears at the top of your list. You can switch between the sections in order by swiping left to right on the section title, or you can slide to the right to reveal the side panel navigation menu. Each section will show readers how many stories are in that particular section for that edition (even in the side panel), so you can quickly see at-a-glance how much reading material you may have. The sections will show your articles in a grid format, with only one article displayed in the beginning, and then breaking off into about 3–5 articles at a time the farther down you go. Each grid section serves as a “page” in Material.
As you find something you’re interested in, just tap on it, and you get a beautifully formatted reading view for your enjoyment. When you reach the bottom of the article you’re on, you can move on to the next one by pulling the screen up, or down to go back. Optionally, you can use the arrow buttons at the top. If you prefer to read the article on the web (I only use this to view comments on articles), then you can easily switch over with the button at the top menubar (with the arrows). Or, if you get to the bottom, a button is available to switch to web view. Articles can also be shared via Twitter, Facebook, email, or message, or you can just copy the link to the article.
It’s pretty simple with Material. The cool thing though are the editions, which will be Morning, Afternoon, and Evening. You will need to enable push notifications in order to be notified of when the new edition is ready, or you can just keep checking the app regularly. If you’re on an old edition, and a new one is ready, you can go to it in the side panel navigation.
So far, I have to say that I’m rather liking Material so far. The interface is nice and simple, and articles are laid out in a clear fashion, without the cruft that is in my social feeds. However, I have noticed that the app gets a bit choppy when switching between sections and articles, and there is no way to browse through older editions as new ones come in. I would like to see the app allow users to view past editions, as sometimes you may miss something. I’ve also noticed that some articles will show up several times, which I found a bit annoying. I hope that the developers can optimize it (or have an algorithm) so that articles don’t keep showing up. There also needs to be a way to tell that you’ve already read something, as currently, the app does not dim out articles you’ve read. And lastly, I hope to see some kind of read-later service integrated.
I still recommend giving the app a try if you are looking for something like Flipboard, but just for news articles only. Since it’s free in the iPhone App Store, it doesn’t hurt to give it a try for yourself.