In the first quick look review, USA Today, TIME, WSJ and LA Times Newsreader were evaluated. In this second part, four more news and news related apps for the iPhone/iPod touch are examined: NYTimes, AP Mobile, Yahoo! and Newsstand.
Recapping, my focus for these quick look reviews was to place emphasis on how well the app utilize Cocoa Touch technologies and get a feel for their fit and finish as well as significant features. What's surprising is the wide variation in approach to iPhone development the various organizations took. It's almost as if some were done with loving care (USA Today), and some were just thrown out haphazardly (LA Times Newsreader). Let's see how the rest of the apps did.
NYTimes. This app is similar to the WSJ app in that it places a small banner ad at the bottom. The home page is fairly clean and has customizable tabs at the bottom. By default, you get Latest, Popular, Saved, and Search buttons. This is the first app reviewed that has a search function, and it's most welcome. Also, unlike the WSJ app, it actually works well, and a list of saved articles is easily and always available.
Unfortunately, clicking on a story can randomly bring up full page, obtrusive ads, much like what we see on Internet news sites. One can e-mail a story to someone else but not send a tweet with a short URL.
The are no settings or instructions that I could find embedded in the app, but given the simplicity and focus of the app, it's not missed. The More... button allows one to drill down to topics of interest such as Business, Technology, Science, Health, Books, Movies, etc.
On the whole, the NYTimes app is both thorough, searchable, but minimalist in its design. It doesn't try to do a lot with iPhone technologies, isn't very colorful, yet has a pleasing, non-nonsense approach.
AP Mobile. This was one of the first dedicated news apps for the iPhone. However, it hasn't progressed much in terms of UI technology, and, if anything, the interface has gotten a little more cluttered. A lot of room is wasted on the home page with icons for photos and videos. There is only room for two stories per section, and one has to, inconveniently, scroll through the entire home page to see two headlines per section. That may suit some, but I found it somewhat awkward.
Also awkward and obtrusive was a popup that pries into your personal information to collect demographic information. It asks for your age, sex, and e-mail address with ironic enthusiasm: "Let's Get Started!" I didn't find that to nearly as much fun as the developers thought it would be, and I was able to bypass it and continue, thank goodness.
On the positive side, this app also has a search function. Articles as well as photo can be saved, but one has to navigate to the More... page to get to the saved articles. In contrast, the NYTimes app can have a button for saved articles right on the home page.
You can do a lot of things with a story besides save it, using the right rising arrow at the bottom. You can rate it, text it directly, e-mail it, tweet it, or interface to Facebook and Evernote.
I note that it did get my location right for the local temperature on the home page, using Accuweather.com. And there's an easy to find customize button right at the top as well. There are a lot of options there to select news and sports topics as well as press releases of interest.
AP Mobile, while complete in many ways, has some annoying characteristics. The clutter of the home page, the demographic prying, and the overall design don't engender affection or enthusiasm -- a considerable intangible to be sure. I rank it better than WSJ but below NYTimes.
Yahoo! is an odd animal, not like the other dedicated news apps. Instead, it's really more of a portal app to all kinds of services on the Internet, of which news is just one item.
For example, there is just one button for Y! news, and it's organized like AP Mobile: one must scroll through categories to see the top headlines in each. The Featured stories on the other hand seemed like fluff pieces and weren't very useful to me.
Everything else is focused on having a Yahoo! account and accessing various services, such as e-mail, calendar, finance, Flickr, and so on, some of which require a Yahoo! user account.
I noted that, at least in iPhone OS 3.1, the back button at the top of most pages didn't work. That might require an update.
Some people may like the aggregation, but to this reviewer, the app just seems to be an amalgam of too many things crammed into one place. For the devoted Yahoo! user who wants to live in an app and also have access to news, it may work. Of course, Yahoo! search is showcased at the top of every page, taking up some room, but serving its purpose well. However, for those who want to focus just on news, this isn't the app you're looking for.
Newsstand. This is yet another kind of animal, but it caught my attention because, while it is basically an RSS reader, it has an attractive newspaper-like interface. Also, it's the only app reviewed here that costs money: US$4.99.
Getting started with Newssstand is easy. Just click on Feeds, then Edit, then the "+" sign at the top to browse the built-in list of RSS feeds. Or you can import an OPML list or manually enter a URL. The preset list of feeds is very long and extensive, but has the contact list-like alphabetical index vertically on the right. The preset list of feeds is both convenient and overkill, it seems, but that's subject to the taste of the user. I noted with regret that the Mac Observer is not included in the Apple News category, but no doubt the developer will be adding that right away. Likely, a simple oversight.
If you have more feeds than can be displayed on the "newsstand" front page, then just finger swipe left or right to see the rest. Clicking on the pseudo-icon of the newspaper takes you to the feed, and another click takes you to the RSS summary. Clicking the right arrow at the bottom takes you to a built-in Web browser so that you can read the whole story. Two finger pinch or expand works just fine.
At the top right of an RSS feed item is a rising right arrow that allows one to do a lot of things with the story: copy the URL, send it via Twitter (via a built-in Twitter client), e-mail it, view with Instapaper, or interface to Delicious.
This app is chock full of goodies, too many to go into in a quick look review. However, if your interest goes to a highly customized list of RSS feeds rather than the pre-baked news selection of the old media newspapers, then I would recommend investigating. I don't think you'll be disappointed for the $4.95 spent, and it serves its purpose well in terms of broadening one's customized view into news and information on the Internet.
Here are the informal rankings and TMO scores (1->5), based on the criterial I established, for the apps reviewed here:
Dedicated News Apps:
- USA Today (5)
- TIME (5)
- NYTimes (4)
- AP Mobile (3.5)
- WSJ (3)
- LA Times New Reader (0)
- Newsstand (5)
- Yahoo! (3)
Of course, there are many dedicated RSS readers for the iPhone, but as mentioned above, Newsstand stood out as a hybrid program that has an appealing newspaper-like interface. And since the dedicated news apps are all free, it's probably worth downloading USA Today, TIME, and NYTimes. Add WSJ of you need the detailed markets and stock information.
It's just a guess, but I would think that, over time, the initiatives by the old media to stop giving away their content will result in a slow movement to paid access. Now's the time to figure out which one gives you the kind of experience you like before these organizations figure out how to include an in-app subscription payment.
Finally, the NPR app for the iPhone was previously reviewed.