The latest social magazine iPad app to hit the market is NewsMix, a $2.99 app that does much the same thing as the increasingly popular Flipboard. So how much chance does NewsMix have to usurp Flipboard? It’s the same chance that online RSS Readers had of usurping Bloglines back in 2004-05, when Bloglines was first to market with a new type of news reading product. Virtually nil.
Just as Bloglines was the first browser-based RSS Reader to gain traction, Flipboard was the first magazine-style iPad reader to gain a following in 2010. Bloglines became the dominant RSS Reader in 2004-05, mostly because it was first to market with a decent product and it scaled well. OK, Bloglines eventually lost the plot when it got acquired by Ask.com and allowed Google Reader to usurp it. The same fate may occur to Flipboard, if/when it gets acquired. But one thing’s for sure, it won’t be NewsMix that beats Flipboard.
The reason is pretty simple: NewsMix offers much the same feature mix as Flipboard. There’s nothing astoundingly new here. Some of what NewsMix offers is slightly better. It puts content into better context, for example creating headlines and opening paragraphs for tweets (Flipboard just displays the tweet). Some of what Flipboard offers is better than NewsMix, for example Flipboard’s ability to create custom sections.
Both products are visually slick, which as users we’ve come to expect in an iPad app modeled after a digital magazine. This is clearly a trend in the ‘news reader’ market currently, iPad apps that are visually appealing and which integrate social media services like Facebook and Twitter. NewsMix and Flipboard both pull content in from the likes of Twitter and Facebook, as well as allow users to ‘share’ it out again via those same services or via email.
NewsMix does a particularly good job with its video and photo sections, which are separated out and highlighted on the main page. It’s a nice idea, because sometimes you just want to relax and watch a video… or look at a photo of a bathing hedgehog.
Even if this is a fairly oranges and oranges comparison, the fact that NewsMix does not allow the user to customize their sections is a big minus. I like how Flipboard allows me to create a special section based on my Twitter list for RWW staff, for example. In NewsMix I cannot do that. To become a default news reader application on the iPad in this day and age, the app has to allow the user to customize what they see. NewsMix should rectify this.
I also prefer the Flipboard user experience, the page-turning UI is wonderful and feels more fluid when browsing. Perhaps that’s because I’ve become familiar with it, over time. Again, another advantage the first mover has. Innovative companies like Flipboard introduce a new type of product and, if it gets traction, they end up setting expectations about what such products should deliver.
It’s healthy though to see more “social magazine” apps come onto the market. Other apps in this space worth keeping an eye on include Pulse News Reader, Reeder, FLUD, TweetMag and the upcoming Betaworks app (currently in private beta) News.me.
Right now the activity is all iPad focused, but 2011 is expected to be a big year for tablets in general. So we’ll see other apps like Flipboard and NewsMix coming to Android tablets, Windows tablets, and more before the year is out.
For now I’m sticking with Flipboard and I’m betting most of Flipboard’s current users will too. If you’re an iPad user, which app are you using for news reading?