The subtle differences between apps

Anthony De Rosa
Feb 3, 2014 · 2 min read

Let’s start out by laying it out: anything on your phone today is competing for your attention, therefore every app is a competitor to every other app.

However, there’s a difference between “news readers,” “news apps” and “social feed readers.” Some overlap these categories but for the most part they fall into one of the three.

News Readers

News readers are RSS readers on steroids. They take in your feeds or they supply their own based on other people’s articles, and pull them in. They might categorize them, add some clever design on top of them (Flipboard) but they don’t produce any editorial at all. News readers are useful for keeping up with all the primary news sources you regularly like to read in one app. Examples: Zite, Flipboard.

News Apps

News apps are produced by humans. They might provide those humans with some tools to produce that news, but the product has a heavy human touch. There might be aggregation, but that aggregation is done by humans who use it to build a new story, and cite sources properly. Some folks may have found ways to present the news differently and maybe add features that traditional news apps never had before (Circa’s “Follow” feature.) Examples of News Apps: New York Times, The Guardian, CNN, The Verge, and Circa News

Social Feed Readers

These are apps that pull in your social feeds and present them in a way that might be confused for “news.” These are apps like Flipboard and Facebook’s new “Paper” app. If your friends share a link to a news item they might show up here but that’s not the primary focus of these apps. Flipboard is one of those apps that floats between “News Reader” and “Social Feed Reader” because it offers both options.

The New News Wires

These are apps that are minimalist in their approach. They provide simply headlines and links to primary sources or simply a paragraph. These are apps like Breaking News and Inside. They might provide features like ways to follow topics and be alerted when something new arrives in those topics.


All of these types of apps have their own utility. They might compete with each other but these apps likely see something like Angry Birds as a bigger competitor for your phone time more than anything else.

    Anthony De Rosa

    Written by

    Digital Production Manager for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah

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