(Note: I wrote this a few months ago and forgot about it. I found it while cleaning off my hard drive today. Oops!)
I got a Blackberry Pearl about a year ago, and while I have access to Google Reader and Twitter, (my main sources of news) I just haven’t gotten out of the habit of reading off the larger screen of my laptop.
Many media outlets are pursuing the possibilities of mobile news, having learned from their mistake with the Internet. As mobile phones get more advanced and more people use them, there is an opportunity to capture an audience.
One issue to address when setting out to get news on mobile phones is the variation in technologies used by different phones. Many phones can play video or view websites. All phones can receive text messages, but that can be costly to the user.
Viewing websites on a non-iPhone is a ghastly business. Tiny screens, poor rendering of CSS, graphic-heavy or Flash-based websites, they all make information harder to get at. One solution here is to create a mobile stylesheet that the phone browser will detect.
Another problem is content. Just as people don’t read off a computer screen the way they read a print product, no one wants to read a lengthy feature article on a 2-inch screen.
What kind of content might one want to see on a phone?
Weather and traffic alerts, events, and big, huge, breaking news. Seriously, the feature article can wait till I get home. But if a criminal is running around my neighborhood with a gun, I’d like to know, ASAP.
What about multimedia? I don’t see myself using my phone to go through a complex multimedia package. A video or slideshow, maybe, if I’m really interested. But phones are about “right now” communication. That should be reflected in how news companies approach them.
It may be that the only real solution for phones is better phone software. It doesn’t have to be iPhone quality, but the ability to add “news” to your basic menu would change everything. You could do any kind of feed you want then, while not having to go three steps in just to open a browser.
The Associated Press launched the Mobile News Network. The view on a phone is pretty nice, with a top news home screen, categorized story feeds (you can pick the general topics, and a “saved” category for custom searches). You can set preferences for location and the types of news you want to see. They also do video pretty well, providing various formats. They have applications for Blackberry/iPhone/iPod Touch users.
CNN’s mobile offerings include a Java application, SMS alerts, live TV (for certain providers), and downloadable videos.
The BBC actually explains how they set up several different versions of their mobile site and let your browser choose the best one.
The New York Times offers a mobile site where you can read the NYT blogs, see most e-mailed articles, get alerts for topics or keywords, and browse real estate listings, stocks and weather forecasts. You can also choose to have news sent to your phone via text message. Customers of certain providers can also get access to crossword puzzles.
Fox News provides live video, streaming video clips, the requisite mobile site, and text alerts. Something a little different: they also offer an audio version of FNC, for a monthly fee.
Real World Use
The people most likely to have a compulsion to check the news every few hours, no matter where they are, are journalists. So I rounded up a few and asked about their mobile news habits.
Greg Linch sent me an e-mail after I asked for responses on Twitter.
I check Gmail on my smart phone (an AT&T Tilt), where I might have a New York Times, Washington Post or Miami Herald breaking news e-mail. After checking Gmail, I look at Twitter for other news and any interesting conversations. I also get Miami Herald breaking news text alerts, which include big national and local news.
If I’m away from the computer for an extended period of time — or if I’m bored somewhere — I’ll check Google Reader on my phone. If I just want a quick peek at the latest headlines, I’ll go to the mobile version of a site such as CNN, NYT or the Herald.
Kyle Mitchell is a music writer. He carries an iPod Touch. In an IM conversation, Kyle told me about his news habits.
NYT is one that keeps going down all the time. AP Mobile News is absolutely fantastic: runs fast as hell and top news never contains any bullshit like celebrity news. I check that a few times a day. Google News has a similar setup, but it’s much more clunky.
Brett Roegiers associate producer at CNN.com said
On my phone, I consume the news via Google Reader and Twitter.
Brett volunteered some advice to media outlets:
I’ll tell you what news organizations should pay attention to: location-based web apps. I click ‘restaurants’ or ‘bars’ and it shows me what’s in my area without me having to input where I am. I guess I’d say try to take advantage of the platform in some way and not just show the latest headlines.
Lyndsey Lewis has an older Nokia, but checks the news on her iPod Touch.
I don’t use my phone, because I have a shitty Nokia phone and it’s hard to read stuff on it. But, I also own an iPod Touch, which I bring with me everywhere and use for news. I have the New York Times app on it and use that almost every day.
So what applications are you using to get the news on your phone? What do you think media outlets should be doing to get people’s attention? What can manufacturers do to make phones easier to use in this context?