If Flipboard thought it had enough competition in the social news-reading tablet app space, it’s got a thing or two coming. Well, one from Google and one from Yahoo, reportedly. The two Web giants are working on their own such applications, the first of which may drop next week.
Livestand is Yahoo’s take on the personalized reading app for tablets, which ousted CEO Carol Bartz announced earlier this year. Sources tell AllThingsD that the app is expected to be released next week. It was originally slated to be launched on iOS and Android during the first half of 2011.
More than Flipboard and Zite, Livestand looks and feels like AOL’s Editions app for iPad. It functions as a personalized, magazine-like publication with dynamic content and sleek, often video-based advertisements. It’s a natural extension of Yahoo’s efforts to become a company that specializes, among many other things, in digital content. But can Livestand stack up?
Also in the pipeline is a project from Google, code-named Propeller. Less is known about how that app will look and function, but it’s generally understood to be the search giant’s answer to Flipboard, which Google unsuccessfully tried to acquire. The app that Google launches instead is expected to include several media partners and integration with Google Plus, something Flipboard doesn’t have yet.
The Cross-Platform Advantage and Flipboard’s Weakness
Another big advantage that Google, and presumably Yahoo, will have over Flipboard in particular is cross-platform support. As wildly successful and popular as its been on the iPad, the startup has been slow to launch a version for iPhone, let alone Android. For the time being, the iPad remains dominant in the tablet space, so players like Flipboard probably feel safe focusing there for now. But if the smartphone space is any indication, Android is capable of catching up to iOS.
It remains to be seen whether Amazon will succeeding to light another competitive fire in this space when the Kindle Fire ships in a few weeks.
Google’s application is described by AllThingsD as “an HTML5 reader for the Apple iPad and Android.” Knowing Google, Propeller may well manifest itself as a browser-based Web app (perhaps alongside native apps), which would practically guarantee that it’s available on any modern tablet with a Web browser capable of rendering HTML5.
Too Late to the Game?
Even with the cross-platform advantage and enormous development resources behind it, products of this nature from Google and Yahoo could simply fail to catch on. The iPad has been in existence for nearly two years and applications like Flipboard, Zite and Pulse have proven very popular among consumers. To compete, the big players will need to offer something truly unique to readers, publishers and advertisers alike.
Tablets may or may not be the savior that many traditional publishers had hoped for, but early surveys indicate that people who own an iPad or another tablet device are deeply engaged and read more news content than they ever did on desktops. As this space heats up and continues to evolve, it’s no surprise to see new contenders jumping into the ring. If nothing else, the eagerness of established tech giants to join in the fun is a sign of just how significant the trend is.