Flipboard may have raised $60 million and counting, and Zite may have just been bought by CNN, but another popular reading app, Pulse, sees its growth coming from being on as many platforms as possible, as quickly as it can. This week, the startup plans to go live as a Windows Phone app, stealing a march on some of its other high-profile competitors.
The app, which has been optimized for the WP7 platform, will feature many of same features that Pulse has on its existing apps for Android devices, iPad and iPhone. But it will also add in some unique tweaks: for example, it will let users put content on “live tiles” — one of the more unique and useful features of the OS — to be able to follow sources directly on a user’s home screen. Some 200 content partners are currently aggregated on the platform and up to 20 sources can be added on the tiles.
Windows Phone has not seen rapid and huge takeup since it launched last year — Gartner recently noted that in Q2, WP7 took just 1.6 percent of smartphone sales worldwide. But a raft of new devices running the updated Mango version of the OS — Samsung announced its latest just today — plus the fact that market leader Nokia (NYSE: NOK) is developing most of its new smartphones on the platform may well mean those numbers will grow.
Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) has also been working hard to get companies like Pulse on board to ensure that the content is in place for its users.
The news reading aggregation space is already somewhat crowded, with tablet-friendly apps like Zite and Flipboard also competing against smartphone-specific reading apps like Taptu, and that’s before Internet players have even started to get involved. Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is reportedly working on a news reader app, and Yahoo’s Livestand, announced last February is supposedly going live in the U.S. this autumn.
Akshay Kothari, the 25 year-old founder and CEO of Pulse, is realistic when it comes to Windows Phone: he knows the small numbers today, but he also says that putting Pulse on the platform will give the company the chance to “consider whether it should invest more in Windows Phone 7.” At the moment he says that Pulse’s 5.5 million users are roughly equal between Android and iOS platforms.
Kothari will not disclose how many of those users are active, nor will he disclose how much people are using the app when they do use it. Recently Flipboard revealed that it reached 3.5 million downloads and 550 million “flips” per month — although Kothari says he does not like to get drawn into usage numbers. “If we measured swipes [the scrolling that one does to read stories on Pulse], we’d be able to show large numbers, too,” he said.
He does note that smartphone users come back twice as often as tablet users, but tablet users spends twice as much time in the app, with the average user coming back “multiple” times per day. That’s not too surprising — tablets lend themselves to more reading; smartphones to shorter bursts of interaction — but it does also say something about how Pulse may choose to develop its advertising and other revenue-generating content when it does roll these out.
That’s not to say there are no ads on the site already — but Kothari points out that these are currently publisher-driven. Pulse’s main focus right now, says Kothari, “is to make sure the users are coming back and that the users increase, before we go all all cylinders on the monetiztion side.”
Kothari doesn’t have a magic number for how many users he thinks Pulse needs to trigger a switch in its business model — or if he does, he’s not sharing it — but he does have some ideas of how advertising will work when it does get rolled out.
Advertising, he says, is not likely to be “in the article but part of the experience.” And the other big revenue-generating element Kothari sees for Pulse involves mobile commerce, either by charging for access around paywalls, or in working with brands to enable news-streams with more than just content embedded in them.
Kothari is less specific about how this would work: “The ads that we see these days are banners or text that you can click through, but if you look at fashion for example, a brand that wants to sponsor some content within Pulse, if a brand can tell a compelling story around that content, that could be a good way to get familiar with a brand or product.”