Ever since the release of the Mac App Store, I’ve been waiting for one specific category to take off: News apps. More specifically, innovative and free news apps.
This expectation isn’t some fanciful dream but something that arose out of a clear precedent: the iOS App Store. Today we’ll briefly discuss what the iOS App Store has in this area that the Mac App Store is desperately lacking and whether or not we can expect this void to continue in the future.
The iPad: The Rebirth of News
I love my iPad for a lot of reasons, it’s great for browsing the web, checking on my favorite social networks, sketching, even playing games. But there’s one thing that keeps me picking up my iPad daily even though I’m already on a Mac for eight to twelve hours every day: news.
The iPad is hands down the best way to experience daily news feeds. The reason for this is twofold. First is of course hardware. Apple has built an amazing device that simply gets every detail right. From the size of the screen to the smooth as butter touchscreen gestures, the iPad is a dream for reading.
Pushing this hardware to greatness however is a dedicated and extremely talented group of developers that seem to be continually redefining the way we experience our favorite news feeds. And by “news feeds” I don’t just mean streams from major producers like The New York Times, I mean RSS feeds from sites like this one, social feeds from Facebook and Twitter and every other type of content you can imagine. Consumable daily content has become a completely customized market where every single person can continually get a fresh crop of personalized information with almost no effort or cost.
Amazing Free iPad News Apps
Major news sources often have their own dedicated apps, but those aren’t usually of much interest to me. I’m much more interested in the category that I was just discussing: custom content.
One of the first notable entrants into this market was of course Flipboard. Love it or hate it, Flipboard launched a whole genre of innovative news apps that iPad owners simply can’t stop downloading.
It used to be the case that we thought of RSS readers as fairly basic apps that were quite unremarkable in their design, often taking on the visual metaphor of an email app. Flipboard showed us that they could be so much more. Suddenly, the news was not something to be read but experienced.
Flipboard released with the magical price point of free, setting the precedent for this genre. Today iPad owners can download a ton of great free news readers, each with their own unique spin. Notable players include Zite, Pulse, Flud, and Editions by AOL. Even Google has decided to throw its hat into this ring with Google Currents.
The Zite Way
My favorite of these is easily Zite. The reason for this is that Zite is an intelligent news app. It takes a look at the type of stuff that I’ve subscribed to in Google Reader and automatically splits the content into various categories. More importantly, it then auto populates those categories with content beyond the feeds that I’ve manually subscribed to. Zite is smart enough to learn what I like and then serve me up similar content from sources that I haven’t discovered yet.
This is the future of content consumption. Applications that extend our personal efforts with automated content filtration that knows exactly the type of articles to search for and deliver based on our preferences.
This is an important point because it’s a key area that can be carried over to any device. The Mac can’t currently replicate the incredibly enjoyable hands-on news experience that the iPad can, but it is just as or even more capable of delivering a customized stream of content in the same vein as Zite.
The Mac App Store
With this goal in mind, let’s have a look at the App Store. Following the same procedure we would use to find Flipboard, Zite and their brethren in the iOS App Store, we open up the Mac App Store and head to the top downloaded free news apps. This is what we find:
Note that this is everything that shows up. Twelve apps, almost none of which are even close to the type of content that we’re looking for. Several are run of the mill RSS readers, others are aimed at novel ideas like putting a news feed ticker on your desktop.
The closest we come is Mixtab, which started as a sloppy direct port of an iOS app but has since come a long way towards being a respectable Mac news reader. Though it falls far short of the charm and features of apps like Zite and Flipboard, it does at least serve as the only free app in the Mac App Store currently approaching this market.
Even if we hop over to the paid section, there’s not much compared to the iPad offering. Reeder and Pulp stand out as the clear leaders. However, Reeder is still your basic RSS reader (cue angry defensive comments), it simply looks way better than the NetNewsWire clones that we’re used to. Pulp, with its newspaper like theme and highly customizable interface, is much more like a Mac version of Flipboard, though it still doesn’t approach the idea of going beyond your subscribed content and serving up similar articles.
Will 2012 Be Any Better?
I’m honestly not sure why there aren’t fifty developers working on bringing iPad-like free news apps to the Mac. Admittedly, as Mixtab has proved, it’s a tough nut to crack and you can’t simply port the experience unchanged. However, the market is undoubtedly a large one so the payoff could be a huge user base for the first movers in this market.
I firmly believe that this market will in fact materialize sooner or later, the timeline however is uncertain. Like the iPad, it likely needs one or two solid entrants to cause the avalanche of “me too” developers.
Recently, most of the iPad-only players in this market made the jump to iPhone. Flipboard, Zite, Pulse, Flud and Google Currents can all be accessed on any iOS device. This shows that these developers are anxious to expand into new territories, and the jump to the desktop is the next logical step. Unfortunately, it may be further away than we’d like it to be.
According to TUAW, the developers behind Flipboard were quoted as saying, “We definitely believe the desktop is part of our future, but it’s still on the whiteboard and not something we are launching soon.”
The arrival of Flipboard on the Mac would definitely make some huge waves in this ocean and you’d no doubt see Zite and others right behind it. Fortunately, the reason for Flipboard’s delay is that they really want to take the time to get it right. The Mac is a completely different beast than the iPad and I’d rather see them take forever to release something great than to rush to put something that’s unusable and really doesn’t add any innovation to the Mac news reader story
Zite and Pulse Are Looking Into Desktop Apps as Well
If we take a look at Quora, we can find similar statements from other developers. Mark Johnson of Zite says, “Zite’s goal is to deliver you personalized content wherever you are, so we’re certainly looking at Zite in your web browser or even potentially an application on the Mac” (source).
Along the same lines, Pulse co-founder Akshay Kothari says this in response to a query about whether or not a Mac app is coming: “One day, hopefully. Our hunch is that the interaction will have to change, to accomodate for keyboard/mouse input as opposed to touch. So, once we nail down the interaction, we’ll open it to the world!” (source).
Do You Want a New Mac News Reader?
In all honesty, if all of these apps and more suddenly made their way to the Mac App Store, I’d likely still find myself using my iPad as my go-to source for daily feeds. However, the force driving the cloud revolution is ubiquity and it would be great to have access to my Zite account (and others) from any platform.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this. Have you tried any of the iPad apps above? Do you think they offer something that you’re not getting from news apps on the Mac App Store? Which parts of that experience can be successfully transferred to the Mac, if any?