By Harry McCracken | Friday, December 9, 2011 at 9:36 am
It’s been a busy week for mobile applications that mimic the feel of a magazine, but with content from an array of sources. First, iPad hit Flipboard arrived on the iPhone. Then Google unveiled Currents, an iOS and Android app which basically answers the question “What if Google had invented Flipboard?”
Now Zite, another iPad mainstay, is joining Flipboard on the iPhone. The company recently gave me a sneak peek and a bit of hands-on time with the app.
In some respects, Zite is an awful lot like Flipboard. Both programs pull in stories from a bevy of news sites and blogs, and weave them together into an addictively browsable, continuously updated package. But Zite is also fundamentally different from Flipboard. It uses your activity on Facebook or Twitter to help it begin to figure out what topics you’re interested in, so it can create sections about them. Then it analyzes your use of the app to fine-tune its story selections. (You can also add sections manually.)
Flipboard, by contrast, relies heavily on the links your social-network friends share, and allows you to add sections for feeds from specific sites and services, something which Zite doesn’t allow. It’s just now beginning to add the sort of algorithmic story-selecting technology that’s at the heart of Zite.
The single best thing about Flipboard is its amazingly polished, clever user interface. Zite, on the iPad and the iPhone, doesn’t come close. But it does get the job done. On the iPhone, a scrolling list of categories is up top, and a list of articles sits below. As with Flipboard, the iPad and iPhone versions sync up so your customizations show up in both places.
It’s good to see Zite on the iPhone. And we might see it in a lot of other places eventually. The company–which is now part of CNN–says its long-term goal is to be available everywhere, including other operating systems and the Web.