The arrival of the App Store has brought a number of rivaling news applications to the iPhone and iPod touch as well. The most prominent entrants into the market are the New York Times, the Associated Press, and Bloomberg. While all of the applications are worthwhile for a certain subset of users, we can't help but feel that often the mobile websites of these organizations are actually more useful and fully featured than the native applications.

New York Times

The New York Times application's (iTunes link) most prominent feature is that it allows for off-line reading, which makes it especially useful for those who use an iPod touch and want to read the Times during their commute. At the same time, though, the offline capability also severely slows down the experience, as the app tries to download a large package of stories every time it updates. The thumbnail photos that accompany most stories typically take even longer to appear. In many ways, this approach is reminiscent of what the New York Times does with its Times Reader desktop application.

Once updated, the interface is very straightforward. The bookmarks at the bottom of the app let you chose between "Latest News", "Business News", "Opinion", "Photos", and "More." A major flaw here is that these bookmarks can not be rearranged. If you want to read the Technology section, you first have to click on "More" and then "Technology." Making the app a little bit more configurable would also go a long way in making it more usable. Correction: You can actually move icons around pretty easily if you head for the second page and look for the 'edit' button at the top of the page.

One really nice feature of the app is its search function. Just enter any keyword and it will look through the local database of stories and return the results within seconds. However, this search is limited to the local cache and it does not search the Times' online archive.

One annoying feature, though, is the advertising that is displayed at the bottom of the screen. Between the bookmark bar, the advertising, and the navigation bar, a good third of the screen is dedicated to something else but the actual content.

Associated Press: Mobile News

The AP Mobile News application (iTunes link) looks a lot like the NYTimes app [UPDATE: AP emailed us to say that "the Mobile News Network Web application launched in May 5 BEFORE the New York Times application was released (July 10)"]. Mobile News, too, stores a local cache of stories on the iPhone, but doesn't suffer from the same kind of slowdowns. It also has a very fast search engine, but unlike the Times, it doesn't put it on the screen at all times. Instead, it is hidden away on the second page.

Unlike the Times, Mobile News does give you the chance to customize the bookmark bar at the bottom of the page, which immediately makes it a lot more user-friendly. The AP, for now, is also not running any ads on its service.

The AP application has a number of other features the Times app does not, which include the ability to send an SMS or email message with a link to the story, as well as the ability to save it for later reference. Users can also take and send pictures from breaking news events they witness directly to the AP.

Bloomberg

While the AP and New York Times obviously try to cover a very wide range of topics, the Bloomberg application (iTunes link) is, as the name suggests, completely focused on financial news. Indeed, regular news only takes up a small part of the application.

The Bloomberg app is the only one of the three apps tested here that does not download a local cache of its stories. It is also completely focused on text and does not feature any photos - which, given its focus on business news, is probably not a very big deal.

Besides the news part, though, the areas where the app really shines is in the displaying the latest ups and downs of stocks and indexes worldwide, with the ability to drill down to charts and stories related to any given company. It is also the only of these news apps that makes use of the iPhone's accelerometer. When you look at the details for any given stock, rotating the screen brings up an enlarged graph of the stock's past performance.

Verdict

In terms of design, the Bloomberg application makes the best use of the iPhone's capabilities and it would be nice if the other apps copied some of these ideas for their more general news applications. Between Mobile News and the New York Times, the main difference really is the content. While the New York Times app is pretty slow, it does work very well once it is up and running. It has to be said, though, that using the New York Times' mobile website is probably a better choice for those who have good connectivity. It loads up faster and the advertising mostly stays out of your way.