Personalized-magazine app Zite has always done a good job of finding articles you might like to read on topics you care about, especially from sources you might not even know exist. But for a long time, its interface was pretty darn dowdy. That changed last December on iOS, with a slick update Zite has since refined. And now the new-and-improved Zite is arriving on Android.
(Full disclosure: Zite is owned by CNN, and is therefore a distant Time Warner corporate cousin of TIME.)
The basic idea hasn’t changed: Zite divvies up the news into 40,000 topics, and lets you find the ones of interest to you by hooking the app up to your Facebook, Twitter and/or Pocket accounts or adding subjects manually. But now the images associated with articles are larger, the formatting is more polished, the transitions are more fluid and it’s easier to navigate your way through everything with one thumb. The look and feel are mostly similar to the iPhone edition, with some Android-specific tweaks — most notably, a widget for your desktop.
Zite’s most obvious rival is Flipboard. Both feel like what magazines might be if they were invented in the 21st century and consisted of stuff rounded up from elsewhere rather than original material. But the differences between Zite and Flipboard are as striking as the similarities. Flipboard’s ambitions appear to be more far-flung: It’s great if you want to keep tabs on your favorite news sources and see what your friends are up to, and it’s lately begun letting its users compose their own magazines. Zite is less social and customizable, but provides plenty of good reading with very little work on the part of the user, and — for me, at least — includes more items from unexpected sources. I’ve got both on my phone, and can’t imagine not having one or the other at my fingertips.
In other Zite news, the company is launching an app for a platform almost nobody has yet: Google Glass.
Like just about all of the companies that have jumped on the Glass bandwagon already, Zite is doing so less as a hard-nosed business decision than out of personal passion and a desire to be part of one possible future of man-machine interaction as soon as possible. In this instance, the passionate person is Zite CEO Mark Johnson, who’s part of the Glass Explorer early-adopter program and says that he’s as excited about Google’s augmented-reality goggles as any new gadget category in years.
“This is not a consumer-ready device, but it’s clear it will be soon,” Johnson told me.
As with other early Glass apps, Zite’s first version has a proof-of-concept feel to it: It lets you tap your way through headlines and images, displayed on the tiny display you can see out of the corner of your eye while wearing Glass. You can choose to have any story read to you by Glass’s text-to-speech feature.
That’s it for now, but Johnson says that it would be logical for a Glass-optimized Zite experience to involve alerts notifying the user to breaking news in personalized categories. With Google Glass not due to arrive in a commercial version anyone can buy until some time next year, Zite has plenty of time for further experimentation.