Thursday, April 21, 2011

Final thought for the day: is there a barrier to entry for tablet news aggregation apps?

I was asked by about a half dozen readers today what my impression of the new app from was – that will come tomorrow. But while many writers are enthusiastic about these news aggregation applications, I am a little cautious. Like any new product that hits the market I ask myself two questions that I find are fundamental: what is unique about the product, and is there a barrier to entry that will prevent others from doing the same thing?
When Apple started to accept third party apps into the newly launched App Store one of the first types of apps that were seen in the News category were RSS feed news aggregators. New readers are still launched. But sitting on top of the heap remains Marco Arment's Instapaper. The reason is simple: Instapaper provides a unique service that combines both superior programming with unique features. It is not simply an RSS feed reader. (In fact, it is not one at all.)

Now, one year after the iPad was launched, we have Flipboard, Zite, Pulse, and other magazine-styled news apps. Can all these apps succeed? Is there a barrier to entry that will prevent other apps with similar concepts from entering the market?

I don't know the answer to these questions yet, but clearly I wonder about the long term viability of the news aggregator model for tablets. I know that because I am a news junkie and consume far more information each day than the average reader, sitting in front of Flipboard holds little pleasure. But the time I get around to reading for pleasure I want something that offers me a consistent level of quality in both writing and design – not a mashup. If the goal is a quick read I find the tablet to be the wrong device, for that I want the web.

Like the OCR which created a new iPad app because it wanted a product that fit the reading habits of iPad owners, I wonder if aggregation apps will be supplanted by more branded news apps from individual media outlets who take the design and aggregation ideas from these new entries into the market and improve upon them through better curation, writing and editing. I have no doubt that consumers what the ability to customize their media experiences. I just wonder whether consumers will find that they are better aggregators and curators than the professionals.

In the end, aggregation of content will continue to be a major features of future media apps. I just have my doubts whether the future will be lots of these apps all raking in millions. Right now I just don't see it.