As I reflect a bit on the evolution of my own smartphone and tablet consumption habits, and ponder recent press releases, it seems that aggregation is going to be a key feature of the next generation of mobile apps.
Yahoo recently announced the upcoming launch of a personalized tablet app that will leverage usage patterns and search histories to customize your view of portal's multi-sourced content. The Livestand is pitched as a "digital newsstand" that will pull together partner brands and Yahoo content into a personalized lean-back package. A video of the functionality is available on YouTube.
For good reason, everyone seems to be chasing Flipboard in one way or another. In many ways, Flipboard has for me collected my favorite brands and effectively pre-empted my use of their standalone apps. As much as an app-based content system seems to favor branded media with those attractive brand logos on the mobile/tablet screen, over time it becomes a tedious way to find and access your favorite content. As my icon-cluttered smartphone and tablet screen expand, the nightly swipe across screen after screen of icons inspires a kind of app laziness. I long for the simple and ugly line of bookmarks on a web browser. Standalone news apps from The New York Times and Washington Post, for instance, are simply too much for me to rifle through. After all, I tend to go to the Times and Post for specific things, and these items are already being updated on Flipboard without my having to drill ritually through their standalone apps. Laziness? Perhaps. I begin to find tedious just jumping into so many individual apps again and again, waiting for each to refresh the content, just to reference that one section or daily item I really like.
I find over time that I am relying ever more on those strong aggregators who successfully pull together the major sources of content. In addition to Flipboard I lean on little apps like the digest series (iDygest, gameDygest, et. al) that pull together the first graphs of 20 or so top posts from their respective categories. As I focus my attention on fewer and fewer choices on my mobile screens, I become less convinced that the branded media app paradigm represents the real end-game for content as it migrates off of the web. More and more of these individual media apps feel bearish to use. Again, lazy? Perhaps. But I find myself hesitating or simply passing over The Daily or NYTimes apps because I know from experience that I have to wait for them to load and then I have to pore through a lot of content that is really irrelevant to me.
A number of print media brands are starting to move away from the magazine-as-app model and towards a more dynamic blending of real-time Web updates and the lusher formatting that the larger screen formats allow. MacWorld issued an iPad app that essentially formats its Web site content into a more touchable and better organized experience. It works exceptionally well because it speaks to that in-between nature of the tablet, somehow not quite desktop browsing nor a print substitute. As more publishers start embracing HTML5 coding both for Web sites and for apps as a way to standardize production, I am expecting we will see more of this blending of Web and app sensibilities.
As much as the tablet or even the nightly smartphone experience is more lean-back than my at-work desktop browsing habits, it really isn't quite like magazine/newspaper-flipping mode either. There are some digital expectations I bring to the platform about real-time reporting and focusing on the most relevant content. As much as the print world would like me to transfer my page-thumbing habits to mobile, it just isn't the same.