AOL’s new Editions iPad app, billed as a “daily magazine that reads you,” is now available in the App Store. It’s a personalized news and content aggregation app that builds itself based on your Facebook, Twitter and AOL profiles, learns over time and also allows for detailed fine-tuning and the ability to add sources manually. But can Editions make a significant splash when similar apps like Flipboard already seem so firmly entrenched?
One thing AOL definitely got right with Editions is the look of the app. Once you’ve connected it to your social media accounts (which is optional) and it generates your first issue, you get a very slick-looking digital magazine, complete with cover and table of contents. Individual section covers also look good, managing to take even relatively low-quality images and sprucing them up with some lo-fi filters to come up with an attractive end product. Animations are nice throughout the app, and the organization of articles, and use of whitespace and fonts all contribute to making Editions very visually appealing.
Navigation is another highlight with Editions. You can either page through the magazine by swiping, or check out a list of all the individual articles gathered within. The section navigator also provides a handy shortcut to each broad category of content, and the app doesn’t hang or stutter while you’re doing any of this, at least on the iPad 2 I was using to test it.
Editions, in my experience, was sexy as well as smart. The link sources it drew from my Twitter feed were all intelligent choices, although it wasn’t as good at sussing out my genuine interests. At least it provides the option of adding both sources and interests manually, thanks to a Profile link in the bottom menu. Also, when you click through to read a full article, you’re presented with both content source and interest options for you to either approve of or deny, which will affect future content delivery choices made by the app.
Finally, the calendar feature, which imports events and birthdays from Facebook and shows them on the first page of your daily Edition, is a nice detail that definitely makes AOL’s approach feel more personal overall.
Editions works best when it presents you with the full text versions of articles for inline reading in the magazine interface itself. Unfortunately, it only does this for “Feature” articles, which only account for a couple of articles per section, at most. For all others, it uses an in-app browser to load the full page of the site, after presenting you with a brief excerpt. This is understandable, considering it benefits content sources, but it feels at odds with the app’s attempt to sell itself as a self-contained digital magazine, and it doesn’t work nearly as well as Flipboard‘s stripped-down presentation of articles. Plus, you won’t be able to use it fully offline.
Another major issue with Editions is the fact that it only updates once a day. Why bother with relatively static content when other sources like Twitter and Flipboard have all that content and continue to provide more throughout the day? AOL is probably banking on this being a virtue to some rather than a downside; those just making the transition from newspapers might particularly appreciate it, and it also provides the satisfaction of having completed something upon reading. But average tablet users are more likely to become more comfortable with a constant news cycle, not less, so not even having the option of dynamically updating content seems like a missed opportunity here.
Overall, Editions achieves the goal it seems to have set for itself. It provides mostly hits in terms of article choices (with only a few notable misses, including one or two articles that were actually legalese notices of content usage restrictions), and it does so with style and good, usable design. But taken in the larger context of the increasingly crowded news recommendation crowd, it suffers because of a lack of continuous updates, and two conflicting styles of article presentation, where the in-line method makes the other feel a little lazy.