Ahead of an as-yet-uncertain release date, AOL is teasing an upcoming iPad app that's designed to deliver news in a new, interactive way. By working out what content you like, Editions whisks everything into a slick magazine-style interface. Can it challenge existing apps like Flipboard, and help return AOL to relevance?
The early promos are no doubt a way to encourage excitement and to lead to more downloads--and AOL just might have a hit on its hands. If nothing else, the tech is fascinating. Instead of requiring users to customize their news feed inputs in the app, Editions relies on a more touchscreen-friendly "quick'n'easy" process wherein you grab icons that match your interests and then rearrange them into a priority-ranked list.
The app then "scours" the web for matching news, and rearranges the feeds into a graphically pleasing magazine-like UI. The scroll-through interface is, in essence, similar to how you really do flip through a regular mag or newspaper. The effortlessness is described by AOL as making Editions "like Pandora for content."
We know all this from the teaser website, and AOL's extraordinary promo video for the "magazine that reads you."
But what we're most interested in is how Editions is being pitched into a marketplace that's already flooded with news readers, news aggregators and, increasingly, dedicated own-brand news apps. There's even a highly credible competitor for Editions already out there--Flipboard ("your social magazine"), whose UI is pretty similar to AOL's digital mag and has integrated feeds from social networks alongside more newsy sites. There's also the Pulse app for iPad ("bringing you good news"), which does a similar friendly, graphics-heavy job of collating news content into a digestible magazine format, even if it requires a little more close management of the news feeds it aggregates for you.
Is AOL late to the game? Yes. But by using sheer muscle and its household brand-name status to attract users to its particular app, could this be a way to bring AOL back to relevance as a player in online news game? Possibly (and, according to this recent profile of CEO Tim Armstrong, that's where the company is putting down its chips).
In some ways this is characteristic of AOL, which moves like a giant slow-maneuvering supertanker compared to smaller, jauntier competitors. These smaller firms have been able to make good headway in the App Store markets since they appear, within the Store's confines, similar to bigger name firms who can use PR and real-world marketing to push their products. This is likely to change as the iPad (and Android tablets) becomes a more mainstream product, selling to average consumers rather than early adopters who are keen to embrace new tech. And if AOL steams ahead hard enough, as this promo campaign seems to imply it will, then it may be able to squash the competition. But that's only true, of course, if it delivers a quality product.
To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.