We’re not in Fleet Street any more, Toto. Changing news habits haven’t killed off traditional newspapers just yet, but they have sparked new ways of finding and consuming news.
Smartphones and tablets are central to this, with a glut of apps exploring new ways to aggregate, personalise and deliver news, whether we’re browsing one-handed on a crowded train, or sat on the sofa flipping through stories on a tablet.
Here are 10 of the apps hoping to capitalise on our evolving news habits in 2014 and the years to come:
- Inside.com – Breaking News
This started life as a curated newsletter about technology industry news, set up by entrepreneur Jason Calacanis. Its app promises more than 1,000 stories a day, summarised (by humans) into 300-character stories, linking to the original sources. You decide what topics you want to read about, with a simple thumbs-up / thumbs-down system to tune its recommendations according to your preferences.
iPhone / BlackBerry
- Yahoo News Digest
Yahoo paid a rumoured £18m for British teenager Nick D’Aloisio’s app startup Summly, then shut it down and recycled its technology for the company’s own Yahoo News Digest app, which recently expanded from the US to the UK. It’s a twice-daily summary of «need-to-know news» drawing on several sources for text, images, charts and background information, but unlike Inside.com, the summaries here are being created by algorithms.
Inventive news apps aren’t just the province of fresh-faced startups. Newsbeat, which launched this month, is the work of US media company Tribune – or to be specific, its Tribune Digital Ventures division. Pitched as «personal news radio», it gets you to choose your favourite (text) news sources, then pulls in stories every day from them, summarising them and using text-to-voice technology to create the equivalent of a personalised news podcast – complete with weather and traffic reports for its US users (although it’s also available in the UK).
Android / iPhone
- Paper – Stories from Facebook
For now, Facebook’s news app is only available on iPhone in the US, where its success may decide how soon (or even whether) it rolls out to Android and other countries. Although based on your standard Facebook friends, it puts more of an emphasis on shared news stories around your favourite topics, rather than baby photos or quizzes. Armed with a slick, uncluttered design, it focuses on categories including technology, popular culture, memes, but also equality, environmentalism and health.
- Circa News
The nearest equivalent to Inside on this list, in that Circa News also has a staff of editors and the promise that it «boils down stories to just the facts». Categories include US, world and technology news – there is a strong US spin to the non-US categories for now, but that may change in the future – with one of its selling points the ability to «follow» certain stories. The app then push-notifies you when there’s been a development added into its summary. Offline reading features also make it useful for below-ground commuting.
Android / iPhone
Flipboard is the most established of the apps in this roundup, and also one of the most well-resourced – it recentlygobbled up one of its rivals, Zite, which had been owned by CNN. Although its ambition remains to be «your personal magazine» across tablets and smartphones, Flipboard has steadily added features from its original incarnation as a magazine-like way to browse social media updates and RSS feeds. Now, it works with traditional news providers to gussy up their articles for smart devices, while also encouraging people to curate and share their own mini-magazines within Flipboard, drawing in stories on whatever topic they like.
Android / iPhone/iPad / BlackBerry / Windows 8
- Feedly Reader
When Google shut down its Google Reader RSS service in July 2013, Feedly was one of the main beneficiaries, as users sought a new way to keep track of stories on their favourite news sites. It remains a slick, easy-to-use RSS reader, working neatly across smartphones and tablets alike, with quick sharing features and the ability to add articles to read-it-later services like Pocket and Instapaper. Its developer clearly has some interesting ideas about how to develop Feedly, though: seen at the moment in small-but-useful features like its ability to spotlight the most popular articles in individual feeds, and beefed-up search within your archives.
Android / iPhone/iPad
- Interesting for iPhone
On one level, this is another news aggregation app, sucking in stories from lots of websites, then sorting them into categories including technology, politics and sports. It’s neat and quick to use, but one of its standout features is the way it integrates Reddit – an important source of news for a growing and increasingly mainstream group of people. It’s also good for designers, who get their own news category, as well as integration of Dribbble, the «show and tell» website for the design industry.
Another veteran in the world of news aggregation apps, this has been going for years, with a strong focus on learning what kind of stories you’re interested in, then adapting the articles it pulls in accordingly – while still throwing in regular curveballs that you may not know you’re interested in until you read them. Images and video are included, with an impressively-varied selection of sources: from mainstream news sites to super-niche-but-respected outlets. Recently, it introduced local editions for the UK, Canada and Australia, as well as its original US incarnation.
Android / iPhone/iPad / Windows Phone / Windows 8
- Newsy: Video News
The name makes it clear what the angle is here: Newsy aims for «snack-sized video news», with notifications on topics you’re particularly interested in, and a range of sources. This – and other apps like it – aren’t a threat to the big news shows (or stations) on TV yet. But with devices like Google’s Chromecast and Apple TV taking us further along the road towards using smartphones and tablets to control what we watch on our televisions, it’s interesting to think about whether video news-aggregation apps might be more disruptive in the future. That said, this role may well fall to YouTube – what price Google launching the video equivalent of Paper for TVs in the nearish future?
Android / iPhone/iPad / Windows Phone / Windows 8
That’s 10 news apps showing different ways forward, but obviously there are thousands of others available. What apps do you use to get your news, and how would you like to see them evolve in the next year or two? Give your views in the comments section.