Only a few months ago, Flipboard was released and hailed as one of the best apps for the iPad. In that program, you can select articles from different sources such as RSS feeds, websites such as the Economist and Facebook, as well as other special interest topics, and then see all of that displayed in a fairly attractive magazine format. Itâ€™s a pretty cool way to gather your interests in one place, encapsulated in attractive squares on the contents page. Not to mention the actual launch screen which takes sometimes average looking pictures from these feeds and somehow makes them look spectacular (as in Guardian Eyewitness spectacular).
But Flipboard has its limitations. First, each stream is treated independently from the other, so you have to do a lot of touching and flicking to go between content. And when you read an article, that can involve a series of swipes as well. That may not sound like much, but the effect was a real drag on the experience. Over the past few months I would go into the app just because I was still awed by how cool it was, but didnâ€™t find myself actually reading much from it.
Then I heard about Zite. Zite advertises itself as a personal magazine. You can take your RSS feeds from either Google or Twitter to populate the magazine, or select from pre-determined categories. In that sense, itâ€™s similar to Flipboard, except that Facebook is not an option. The app then takes those sources and makes a magazine out of those feeds which updates throughout the day. Itâ€™s structured in a slick manner like Flipboard, but in a simpler, more user friendly format which encourages reading.
Now hereâ€™s the cool part. You can give each article you read a thumbs up or down, and the app will record that to help guide future editions. In other words, the app will learn in greater detail about what you like, and make the magazine even more customized to you. Further, it will not only pull from the sources you indicate, but it will gather similar articles from other sources as well. So youâ€™re getting the news and info you want, but are also exposed to articles outside of those feeds.
The articles are easier to access and read than in Flipboard. Touch a headline, which often is a combination of a picture, the lead text, and the article source, and you have the whole article before you. Most of the time thatâ€™s in the app itself, sometimes it takes you to a webpage, but once youâ€™re there, there is nothing to do but scroll down. And with one touch of a button you are back to where you were in the magazine. Oh, and by the way, itâ€™s integrated with an Instapaper button!
Itâ€™s not all perfect. The opening screen isnâ€™t as attractive as Flipboard (sometimes I open that app just to see the title screen â€“ seriously). Even though a particular article from a particular feed only appears once, articles are often repeated across the internet, and thatâ€™s reflected in Zite. One time I saw the same basic article appear 5 times. And although the app is free, at some point it will feature ads which may change the experience.
But then again, the ads could enhance to the experience as well, making it feel more like a magazine. This would be especially cool if the ads took the space of an article and not in a pop up screen where you would have to wait for it to play out before resuming to scan the content. And the ads could be both stills and video imbedded in the magazine. So it would be like reading an actual magazine, except that some of the ads would be videos (Harry Potter anyone?). If done right, the ads might actually enhance the experience.
So I like Zite a lot. Itâ€™s one of those apps which reminds you how exciting and cutting edge the iPad is. To coin an overused phase, Zine is one of those â€œkillerâ€ apps which make that â€œmagicalâ€ quote when the iPad launched seem not quite as silly as it first appeared.