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Zite Joins Flipboard, Google On The iPhone In Crowded Week For News Apps

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Fate probably wouldn’t have had it any other week: at the end of a week in which both Flipboard and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) unveiled updated takes on how to present content on smartphones and tablets, Zite is ready to move its iPad application down to the iPhone.

It’s getting crowded in the news-reader app market, as our chart below points out, and especially now that Zite’s iPhone application is expected to become available in the App Store Friday. Many apps, such as Zite, started out on tablets where the larger screen size makes it possible to duplicate a magazine-like experience of flipping through pages. But phones are a trickier problem for designers at these companies given the small screens, at-times unreliable Internet connections and diversity of smartphones.

For Zite, shrinking the tablet experience was all about simplifying an app that was already designed around the principles of simplicity, said Mark Johnson, CEO of Zite, which is now a part of CNN. The reading experience on a phone is usually a quick one, often undertaken while jostling your fellow commuters on the train or while waiting at the dentist’s office.

Zite pared down the screen to just two basic fields: one across the top that lets you flick back and forth between categories, and another much larger field below that lists stories in a given category. But once you’re in the story itself, it preserved the “thumbs up/thumbs down” functionality that allows Zite’s personalization algorithm to help serve up a selection of stories that over time will be more pleasing to your tastes.

That algorithm is what Johnson hopes gives Zite an edge over its competitors. At some point, he’d like to be able to design the system to serve up different content based on the time of day, for example, on the presumption that people use their phones differently than they use their tablets. But that will require data.