Once upon a time, there were two clever personalized magazine apps for tablets and phones. Flipboard found most of the things it showed you by pulling them in from online sources you specified yourself, along with links shared on your social networks. Its arch-rival Zite took a different approach which required less work on your part: You picked general topics, and the app used an algorithm to find relevant articles from all over the web.
I found that people tended to gravitate towards Flipboard’s way of doing things (as I did) or Zite’s (as plenty of my pals did).
In March, Flipboard bought Zite from CNN, which had earlier acquired the startup. Now it’s releasing Flipboard 3.0 for iPhones and Android phones, incorporating Zite’s technology along with other tweaks designed to assure that the app supplies you with a never-ending supply of reading material tailored to your interests.
I’ve been using the new version on my iPhone 6 over the past few days. The result is something close to the best of both worlds: the beautiful presentation which made me love Flipboard in the first place, plus Zite’s ability to find content I didn’t know I was looking for.
The changes to Flipboard’s interface are probably the most substantial ones in its four-year history. The app originated on the iPad, but most people now use it on a phone; this is the first version that’s launching first for phones and which doesn’t feel at all like the tablet edition shrunken down onto a smaller screen.
In the past, when you launched the app you saw a set of tiles for publications, social networks, and saved searches which you’d previously set up. Now you land right in a stream of fresh content which Flipboard has assembled for you based on the items you’ve set up along with other cues you’ve provided about your interests. (It’s an expanded version of Cover Stories, a previous feature.)
As you use Flipboard, you can follow topics (there are 34,000 of them, in the feature taken most directly from Zite), other users, and the curated magazines which any user can create. Each additional item you follow adds to the data which the app uses to choose the stories it places on your home screen. Stories show the topics they’re associated with, letting you tap on any topic to follow it. And the app periodically suggests additional items to follow–which sounds like it might be annoying, but is elegantly done.
If you were happy with Flipboard the way it was–with the overarching organizing principle being the news sources and social networks you’d proactively chosen–you can get to that list with one tap, using a new row of icons at the bottom of the display.
Besides the Zite-based algorithmic suggestions and manual addition of sources and networks, Flipboard also picks some of its content using a team of real live human editors. Among other things, these staffers choose items for Daily Edition, a newspaper-like magazine organized into sections such as Politics Rundown, Sports Roundup, and Tech Report.
Mike McCue, Flipboard’s cofounder and CEO, told me that the combination of Zite’s automation and Flipboard’s handcrafted approach to story selection results in something that’s more interesting than either could be on its own. “We look at them as the science, and we’re kind of the art,” he says. Judging from my time with the new app, it’s a powerful combination.