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Newspapers and magazines aren’t dying. They’re just changing venues. It’s the paper versions that are losing blood, but as news shifts online and goes mobile, we still love those gorgeous magazine spreads. Cue mobile app developers who give us exactly what we want, but who does it best?
Flipboard, Inc. brought their eponymous app to the iPad last year and already it feels like an institution. Originally focused much more on your Facebook and Twitter feeds than anything else, the service has grown, adding much more content. It is, essentially, a magazine you create of news and articles that you like, along with your Facebook and Twitter friends mixed in (plus LinkedIn, Google Reader, Instagram, and Flickr).
You know they Ken Burned this one like mad
The app starts with a single picture like a magazine cover then does a Ken Burns effect pan. Up in the right hand corner is a navigation button that gives you options for the very first story you see. Across the bottom are tiny icons of sources of stories. Tap one of those and you'll see recent interesting articles.
But as its name implies, Flipboard is designed to be flipped, so run your finger across the screen to start flipping pages. Inside the cover is a nine-space grid with your Facebook and Twitter accounts taking up spaces one and two. The seven remaining spaces are preselected based on category, such as News (running the gamut of major news orgs), Tech (ditto, though no Mac|Life -- sad panda), Lifestyle, two sets of Flipboard picks, and articles from Oprah.com. The last square left for you to fill out. Any of these pre-chosen sources can be deleted by tapping and holding, just like app icons.
Oprah's got some sweet tips; don't act like she doesn't
Beyond that there's a second page to add ingredients to your "magazine" with twelve more squares to fill. Tap one of your squares and a pane appears with partner news sources. Tap one of those names, such as Rolling Stone, and you’ve filled your square. Tap the Rolling Stone square and -- boom -- the screen fills with well laid-out articles, like the best magazine you ever read. Slide your finger across the screen to turn the page or quick scroll through the articles by dragging the page scrubber at the bottom.
Add news by tapping on sources or by typing in the search bar
The Favorites button in the upper left takes you back to the table of contents while the red bookmark on the right gives even more content choices. If your tastes run not to major sites and news orgs, simply type the URL or name of a site and Flipboard pulls up everything associated with it from its RSS to related Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as Flickr and Instagram users and more.
Finding people is as easy as this and makes their Twitter look like gold
After you fill two pages, Flipboard maxes out the little table of contents squares, but you can keep going. These additional sources are tucked away under the red bookmark in the upper right corner. Tap on it, scroll to the bottom of your favorites, and there they are. Flipboard is also crammed with social features we've come to expect. At the bottom of each article are icons to tweet it, share it on Facebook, email links, and send long articles to either Read It Later or Instapaper.
Landscape view is every app's secret weapon
All in all, Flipboard is the kind of app you'd put together if you were building your dream one: solid, engaging, easy to use and navigate, beautiful, and as perfect as we've seen in an app.
At some point, AOL decided they needed to get in on this mobile news game. Editions is their stab at the news magazine app and we have to say we like it a lot. Fire up the app and you get classic wood panelling background as the app digs within its sources for your magazine. A recent update destroyed the load time for this and now the app is super speedy.
Dig that groovy wood panelling
Much like Flipboard, this is another do it yourself build magazine, tailored to your tastes. Only AOL aims to go one further. Whereas you can pick and choose your sources with Flipboard, here AOL has done the work of curating sources. You can add some, but you're merely pulling from the same list and highlighting sources you prefer. (And Mac|Life makes the cut -- woohoo!)
The interesting thing about Editions is it's not built around the 24/7 news cycle. You select what time of the day you want it “delivered” and that's the cut off time for your stories. Anything after that time won't be in that day's Editions. Pick a too early time of the day and you don't get Monday's later stories until your Tuesday issue arrives. This is, to say the least, something of a departure from the current business model which holds that the public wants constant updates.
What do you want to read about?
This is deliberate, according to AOL, in order to create something that had a beginning and end. Something completable. It's a retro-ish concept, but that fits well with the magazine's design which includes throwback fonts and benday dotted images on its cover.
When you first fire up the app, you'll be prompted to pick the sections that most interest you. Love sports? Make sure that turns up in your magazine. Don't care for financial news? Drop it out and just get the articles you're interested in. Add your ZIP code and birthday for local news, weather, and your horoscope. Log in with Facebook and Editions will remind you of this week’s birthdays and pull events from your calendar for reminders.
Pretty layout of stories and a nice set of controls
Navigation is similar to Flipboard. Flick your finger across the page to turn it, tap an article to load it up. The short, RSS style synopsis gives way to the fuller article from the source site. At the bottom of the screen is a small arrow button that, when tapped, unleashes the magazine control panel. Want to see just a list of articles in this issue? Tap that button and a scrolling list appears on the left side of the page. Weirdly, tapping an article from the list doesn't take you to that article but to the page on which you will tap that article.
Monday's edition has CO's earthquake but not VA's despite it being hours after
Tap Sections and a thumbnail navigation bar appears across the bottom of the magazine letting you scroll through sectional cover stories. There are also controls to let you manually personalize your content, though Editions is supposed to learn from the stories you read what your real interests are. (Each story also has a selection of metadata tags that you can X or √ to add more stories about those subjects.)
Tap tags to see more or fewer articles like this
The app claims to make news available for offline reading, but this is just the headlines. Tap an article when you’re not connected to the Internet and you’ll get nowhere fast, but that’s true of most app magazines. We’d hoped for some Instapaper or Read It Later integration, but that seems unlikely based on Editions focus on read it and be done orientation.
We loved, just absolutely adored, Flipboard. It's as beautiful as something Apple would design themselves and every aspect of the "magazine" is intuitively laid out and easily understood. It's there when we want it and we can keep returning to it throughout the day for the latest news. Flawlessly executed with the ability to be as personalized as you want it to be, it's the perfect news app.
But don't get us wrong. We also were quite smitten with Editions. We're just old enough to appreciate its limited timeframe and its finished nature. When you're done with it, you're done with it. We've enough to keep up with without yet another app we have to open on an hourly basis. Yet the world this appeals to is not the world that currently exists. While we can see keeping both apps, Flipboard is our three times a day app, and Editions is our lazy Sunday morning catch up newsweekly.