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BW Businessworld

News Was Never So Good

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It's difficult to say whether the iPad will save the publishing industry, but the news apps certainly look better than any newspaper

Call me crazy but the fact is I have 12 news apps on my iPad and Android smartphone. And I don't even like the news!

There's the obligatory Pulse, there's Flipboard, News360, Zite, BBC News, The Telegraph, Buzzbox, TweetPad, AG Newspapers, Early Edition, CNN, and NDTV. I like the NDTV app best for the sheer pleasure of switching it off, with the result that I tend to close it more often than I open it.  Just kidding, NDTV.

If you're wondering whether I even use all of these apps, let me tell you, I most certainly do. Do I use them all every day? No. Why do I need to? Unlike with a paper newspaper, I don't have to riffle through it before it goes into the junk cupboard. Unlike a newspaper, it doesn't smell of wet dog.  Instead, all of these apps either look beautiful and make news readable in new and interesting ways, or offer a convenience I've never known before. Or both.

If you rewind to January 27, 2010 and the launch of the original iPad, you'll remember the big talk about how this new tablet thing was going to save the publishing world.  There was the New York Times' front page, looking good enough to eat on its screen, but even so, it was difficult to see what could turn around the fortunes of a media industry going through very difficult times - as it still is, in most countries.  Was a change of format all that was in the way of young people consuming news from the major news publishing houses and would the iPad fix that? Would readers pay for content online, and would advertisers fit into the equation anywhere?

These questions are still largely unanswered. But meanwhile, developers and news organizations have gone ahead and created innovative apps for phones and tablets, particularly the iPad, that are really compelling. My news consumption and reading has gone up several hundred times over, thanks to these.  On the mobile, I find I can polish off a big number of stories (not all in full) on the way to work in the car. If I'm tired of reading, I can just turn to news on say, a BBC app. This has seriously eaten into my audiobook and music time.  On the iPad, I find that each of the news apps I've collected give me a nuanced access to the news and content I'm interested in and I tend to use whichever suits my need at the time. If I'm looking for nothing in particular, I may flip through Flipboard and there's always lots to read and save. If I want something on a specific subject, I turn to Zite.

Which brings me to my current favourite news or content apps.  News360 is a recent creation of a small privately-held Russian company that specialises in semantic analysis, which it does for various B2B products.  The company's product development head, Roman Karachinsk told me that they just had the idea, in the normal course of work, of creating a personalized news application that drew on the team's expertise with linguistics and semantics. If that makes News360 sound complicated, let me tell you it isn't and the package on the iPad is really easy to use, and very interesting. When you launch this free app, you first see a list of the top stories with thumbnail pictures on one side. You also see several news sources. Tap on a selection and the app goes to a nicely formatted page where you have photos to flip through on top and a long row of news sources to choose from. The text from one of these already shows on the main page and you can slide up the source web page with a touch. The fact that you can see a news story from hundreds of sources easily is nice for writers and companies, but I'm not sure other users want multiple sources raher than just more stories. But if it's sources you want, you can read by source in a Pulse-like screen that you can switch to with a touch.

On a sidebar, you can select to see news and articles on different areas of interest and even add them to a My Stories feature to personalize your news topics. You can also share, save, email, and favourite news items from here. Not just that, you can switch to your location by selecting Tripit.

But the coolest party trick here is that when you tilt the iPad to landscape, all the stories disappear and you see a screen with photos floating past. This is to allow for serendipitous discovery of news. Tap on a pic, obviously, and you go to the news story from which it comes.

The other news app I've become addicted to is Zite. Though it's glitch and slow at times, I love the concept. Zite lets you make a 'magazine' on various areas of interest. I have mini magazines for at least 15 topics - whichever catches my fancy.

The author is editorial director at Mindworks Global Media Services

mala(at)pobox (dot)com, @malabhargava on Twitter