Bonnie Cha

Recent Posts by Bonnie Cha

Now at Your Service, Winston the Personal Newsreader App

We get our news from a lot of places these days — TV, newspapers, the Web, mobile apps, social networks. Having these multiple resources is certainly nice, but it can also be time-consuming trying to check them all in order to get the news that’s most important to you.

To help simplify the process, a Boulder, Colo.-based startup called Reactor Labs today released its free Winston app, which narrates the news to you in short two- to three-minute briefs. It’s currently available for iOS devices, and can stream to Apple TV and AirPlay devices. An Android version and support for more languages (it only supports English at the moment) are in the works.

I’ve been testing a prerelease version of Winston for the past few days, and it has been an interesting way to get news every day. The app allows you to choose the topics that most interest you, such as world news, politics and sports, and pulls information from various news sources around the Web. It can also incorporate information from your Facebook and Twitter accounts.

You tap on a specific channel to hear a rolling summary of articles, dictated to you in a male British voice (what else would you expect from something called Winston?), complete with any related images, and classical background music, if you so choose. If a story grabs your attention, you can tap the headline to read the full article.

I found Winston useful for getting my news fix in the mornings while getting ready for work. Winston’s voice sounded surprisingly human, though it certainly had its fair share of mispronunciations, particularly with names. There are some other kinks, as well. For example, it didn’t always do a good job of summarizing Facebook statuses, and I could never get my Twitter account to sync with Winston.

Still, I came away impressed by the app overall. The news summaries were relevant and well done. The interface is also attractive and easy to use.

Reactor Labs CEO and co-founder Aaron Ting said the company will continue to refine the intelligence technology for summarizing news, and will add new features, including an in-car mode and voice commands.

Reactor Labs has raised $750,000 from Windforce Ventures, Comcast Ventures and ENIAC Ventures, among others.

Here’s a video of Winston in news-reading action:

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik