Katherine Boehret

In Your Hands, Just What You Want to Read

Personalized-reading apps save you from pawing through the Web for news and bring you more of what you want to read. Until now, these have been mostly found on tablets like the iPad, but Wednesday, the first of those apps moves to the smartphone for reading on the go.

A new personalized-reading app for the iPhone is being launched by Flipboard, the design-centric company that led the customized-news charge with its app for iPad. News can be rapidly browsed with a thumb flick from the hand holding the iPhone, like a digital Rolodex. It’s the kind of thing you’ll want to show off to friends.

Flipboard’s iPad rivals aren’t far behind in the jump to phones, though each take a unique approach in how to a user personalizes content. Zite is an algorithm-generated personalized-magazine app for the iPad that plans to release an iPhone app very soon, perhaps even this week. A phone version is planned for AOL Editions, a personalized news magazine delivered to the iPad once a day. Yahoo’s Livestand app for iPad will expand next year to additional platforms, including Android tablets and possibly phones, according to a spokesman.


Flipboard for iPhone app

Google has been working on a personalized-reading app that individuals close to the company say will run on Android tablets and phones, the iPad and the iPhone. It will be released this month with the ability to use multiple accounts, offline reading and over 100 partners, according to the individuals.

For the past week, I’ve been testing a pre-release version of Flipboard for iPhone. I’ve also revisited Zite, AOL Editions, Yahoo Livestand and Flipboard on the iPad to check out some updated features in these apps. You may like one more than another depending on how much tweaking you want to do to the app’s settings. Most allow for users to take an active role in helping the app decide what kinds of things they want to read. Others, like Zite and AOL Editions, add an automated method to the process.

Flipboard for iPhone is enhanced by Flipboard Accounts, which was added to the iPad app last month. The feature lets families sharing iPads give each person an account that saves personalized settings and account information—including from Facebook and Twitter. The first time I signed into my Flipboard account on the iPhone made my phone feel a lot more useful. As I waited in line at Starbucks, I flipped through dozens of news bits and images from Flipboard partners like Bon Appetit and ProPublica, Facebook updates from my friends and tweets I follow. The bottom of each screen looked like a page flapping in the breeze—Flipboard’s playful way of reminding you to page forward for more content.


Zite’s iPad app

A lot is packed into each Flipboard nibble, though I never felt a screen was too crowded. A tap on each tweet pulled up a cartoon word bubble from which I could opt to mute tweets from someone, re-share content or star it as a favorite. Facebook updates displayed who else “liked” a status and let me add comments. A mini version of the red Flipboard ribbon, which opens settings on the iPad app, appears on the iPhone.

The Zite app for iPad curates its magazine content by studying a user’s reading behavior, though readers also can make manual tweaks. Zite can study who users follow on Twitter to generate a magazine filled with similar content. I’ve used Zite almost every morning for months without having to make any adjustments.

Starting this week, Zite has its first branded channel: Lululemon Athletica, which offers health articles and fitness tips. Zite also has multiple accounts for those who share an iPad.


AOL Editions

AOL’s Editions iPad app is a digital magazine that publishes once a day and has a beginning and an end. This means you can read the entire thing each day—a rarity in the online world of continuous updates. But it also means content can feel outdated at the end of the day. AOL Editions takes an algorithmic approach that can be helped manually. It incorporates Facebook and iCal calendars, so the first page shows calendar events and birthdays. As of October, it can now be read in landscape or portrait view.

Yahoo’s Livestand feels sluggish, with spinning circles appearing on the screen almost every time I tapped on something. The home screen is clearly focused on Yahoo content, according to the large Featured on Livestand section that takes up most of each screen. Even when I selected content I wanted in my Livestand, it was buried in a book labeled Personal Mix, and then I had to dig through sections within this book.

This month, Yahoo will add Twitter sharing (users can currently share to only Facebook or via email), and early next year Livestand will incorporate personal Twitter and Facebook feeds as topics. A subscription model is planned for certain publications.


Yahoo Livestand

Personalized-reading apps can change the way you consume information on the iPad—and they’ll soon start changing the way you consume information on smartphones.

Write to Katherine Boehret at katherine.boehret@wsj.com.

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