In the latest sign of just how hot social reading tablet apps like Flipboard, Pulse and Zite are becoming, news came out this week that Google is working on its own such app.
After a post by ReadWriteWeb founder Richard MacManus about News.me was published on Google Plus, Robert Scoble reshared it, adding, "I heard from someone working with Google that Google is working on a Flipboard competitor for both Android and iPad." The existence of the project was confirmed by Kara Swisher, who reported that app, which will be available for both iOS and Android, will be called Google Propellor.
Beyond that, details about the project are sparse. Google reportedly tried to acquire Flipboard last year, but was unsuccessful in its bid and then went on to start building its own competing app. If nothing else, this signifies how the popularity of socially-fueled tablet reading apps are changing how people consume content, something of which Google obviously wants to be at the forefront.
If tablet sales continue to explode, the way people consume at least some of the content on the Internet is going to shift, at least in part, toward this personalized, socially-fueled model. It won't kill search - Google's core business - but it may chip away at the role of the search engine in finding certain types of content. And Google has ads to sell.
The lessons of the up-and-coming personalized newsreading experience are not lost on traditional publishers, either. Recognizing the significance of this trend, CNN bought Zite, a Flipboard competitor, just a few weeks ago.
Google's Cross-Platform Advantage
If its launch isn't too far off, Propellor will have one major advantage over Flipboard: an Android app. Flipboard CEO Mike McCue has said that the team is working on a version of the app for iPhone next, but the company has yet to announce plans to build for Android tablets.
Amazon is expected to release their 7" tablet before the holidays and the impending release of Ice Cream Sandwich, the next version of the Android OS, could make Android tablets that much more attractive to consumers. If things work out with Google's social reading experiment, we may well see it baked into the Android operating system, as Google products so often are.For now, the iPad enjoys overwhelming dominance of the tablet market, but that could change sooner than expected, as competitors scramble to get their devices on shelves.
There are already a number of Flipboard competitors out there, but if executed properly, Google's solution might be able to pose a credible threat just by virtue of the fact that it's made by Google. Then add in the cross-platform factor. Not only will be available on iOS and Android, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see it show up as an HTML5 Web app, as well. It wouldn't be the first time Google has produced a page-flipping digital reading experience in the browser using HTML5 and related technologies.
Still, just because Google is Google doesn't mean they'll win at this game. Flipboard, Pulse, Zite and others already offer a very compelling user experience. Flipboard in particular is beloved by its users and has received accolades from everyone from Time magazine to Apple itself. The cross-platform support will certainly help, but will whatever Google's cooking up offer something truly unique that consumers haven't seen before?