A Better You in 10 Minutes: iOS’s Top 4 News Readers

The purpose of this article is to help you answer a simple question: “Which news reader is right for me?” The answer to which is, of course, “Well, it depends on what kind of person you are.” This wouldn’t always have been the answer though. Before we move forward let’s briefly take a trip back to the “golden age” of news.

Once upon a time the news was the news. Unbiased reporting. Bold investigative journalism. The truth at all costs, damn the consequences. Newspapers prided (and differentiated) themselves on their ability to get the best “scoops” (news or information that nobody else had) and craft compelling pieces of journalism. If your morning edition was able to push a story none of your competitors had you’d sell more papers and build your reputation as a go-to source for the day’s events.

At some point, however, this started changing. As the internet enabled nearly instant dissemination of information many of a newspaper’s traditional differentiators (news quality and news timeliness) became increasingly irrelevant. A few smart people figured out that there was a better way to differentiate their news products: by increasing its relevance to the consumer. They figured out that the news could be marketed and sold by tailoring it to an audience with similar and exploitable psychographics. “The news, period.” slowly morphed into “The news for X kind of people.” Are you an easily outraged nationalist? Fox will rile you up like no other station. Bleeding heart liberal? Tune into MSNBC to get your whine on! Feeling fancy today? Why not read the New Yorker while you sip your third wave latte?

News readers have had an unsurprisingly similar history. At first they were generally undifferentiated; offering a broad picture of the news from multiple sources. They weren’t particularly smart about how they served up the news either; repeat articles were common and little attention was paid to delivering you articles actually relevant to your interests. The landscape now, however, is seriously different. There are hundreds of different news reader products with unique value propositions; each choosing to emphasize certain news qualities and trading off certain other qualities. Some will radically personalize the news by scraping your social graph. Yet others will leverage in-house editorial teams to add insight and context you wouldn’t get from single-source publishers.

Ultimately you’re going to be most satisfied and engaged with a news reader whose value proposition in some way aligns with your own values. To help you out I’ve paired up what I consider to be the market’s best news readers with the values I believe that they represent. If you see something of yourself in those values then it’s likely you’ll find something enjoyable about the associated product.

Value: “I care about design and experience.”

Product: Flipboard

It’s hard to argue with Flipboard’s success. Of all the news reading apps Flipboard definitely offers the most elegant user experience. All browsing can be done with one thumb; articles are flipped through one at a time almost as if you’re using a rolodex (look it up kids). I actually have some fun using Flipboard, although at times I do believe that it comes at the expense of actually consuming the news. Recently Flipboard has taken a turn to the social, rolling out user-curated magazines. I definitely see the value here but ultimately the feature isn’t compelling enough to justify how unwieldy the process of finding and following magazines is.

Value: “I like being the first to know or share something.”

Product: Trigger (disclaimer: my app)

Of the solutions on this list Trigger is the relative newcomer. Trigger is an excellent “daily driver” type news reader with some very interesting twists. Trigger is built from the ground up to reflect the social nature of news consumption. Knowledge is power, but the news is unique in that it has a certain social time-value; the earlier you get it the more you get out of sharing it or discussing it with your friends. Trigger maximizes this time-value by actively predicting what new news and articles will become popular so we can give it to you first. If you’re an active social media users we can go even further and tell you which articles your friends and followers might be interested in that they haven’t read yet. The best thing about Trigger? It caches articles so you don’t need an active internet connection to use the app; great if you want to kill some time on the subway in one of the numerous dead zones.

Value: “I love knowing the history behind the news.”

Product: Timeline

Timeline is, in many ways, the most niche product on this list. It takes important new news and gets their editorial team to put it in historical context, giving you the series of events that predicated it. I consider Timeline niche because it doesn’t really work as a go-to source for all news. The editorial burden means that they can only publish a few timelines per day, often on the more esoteric topics with interesting histories. The content is consistently great but there’s only enough for under half an hour a week of reading.

Value: “I care about the big picture.”

Product: Circa

C to the dot.

Edit: The day after I publish this article Circa announces that they’re ceasing operations. Really sad news from one of the best news readers around. These guys brought something really unique to the news reader scene and for everybody’s sake I hope they find some way to continue doing what they do best. Recommendation kept here for posterity’s sake.

Circa, like Timeline, adds value to the news by having their in-house team of editors turn the day’s events into mobile-friendly digests. Articles from various sources are chopped up and the most important parts arranged into an easy-reading brief that helps you understand the news in context. Related briefs are linked together to help you explore recurring topics. Circa, like Timeline, is a somewhat “hardcore” news reader and suffers the same drawbacks. Probably best used in additional to a more general reader.

Although Trigger is my app, I’m happy to write about my “competitors” for the simple reason that I think these are all great apps that deliver more value together than they do independently. A better and more informed you is almost always a good thing and I really believe that each of these products does a slightly different thing to help you get there. They’re all free, so go ahead and try them out. Let me know what you think about them in the comments below!