Zite gets a version 2.0 makeover

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By Pete Davison Comments

Zite, the popular iPhone and iPad application that allows users to subscribe to various topics and then received a personalized “magazine” of relevant news, has recently undergone a major revamp. The new version 2.0 of Zite claims to evolve the functionality of the app from “personalized magazine” to “intelligent magazine” through improved discovery, social integration and a new UI that is in keeping with the adjustments iOS 6 made to the default look of its apps.

This review is based on the iPhone version of Zite 2.0, tested on an iPhone 4S. The new version is available now as a free Universal download from the App Store.

The concept behind Zite is similar to other “magazine-generating” apps such as Flipboard. Users start by signing up for an account and selecting some topics to follow. Optionally, users may connect their Twitter and Facebook accounts using iOS 5 and 6’s built-in functionality for personalized recommendations of topics to follow, though when tested connecting to both Twitter and Facebook returned a somewhat limited list of just three topics rather than a more representative selection of my interests.

Once the user has chosen their initial topics, Zite takes the time to provide the user with a quick tour of its interface rather than throwing them in without any explanation. The tutorial takes no more than a minute or two to complete, so it is not too obtrusive — though there did not appear to be a means of bypassing it for users who are already confident in how to use the app. As part of the introductory experience, however, users do create a Zite account, so presumably signing in with an existing account on a new device rather than starting from scratch will bypass the need to follow the steps of the tutorial.

Zite’s main screen defaults to a “Top Stories” view that incorporates relevant headlines and preview images from across all the user’s subscribed topics. Tapping on a story brings it up in a “reader” view, simplified somewhat from the original website. From here, users may view the original article on the Web; give it a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”; share it on Twitter, Facebook, Pocket, Instapaper, Evernote or via email/SMS message; or block the source if a site the user dislikes comes up frequently. By swiping from left to right on the screen, users may dismiss the article and return to the main feed — there is no “back” button, which takes a little adjusting to, but soon becomes second nature after using the app for a short period.

Each article has related tags attached to it which the user may explore by tapping on them. For example, at the time of writing, a video games-related story describing a new Pokémon iOS app was showing up as a top story — this also carried the related tag “Pokémon,” which I could tap on to see further stories specifically related to Pokémon — and even subscribe to this topic. Zite claims to have over 40,000 topics available for users to subscribe to, so it’s likely that most people who download the app will be able to find something relevant to their interests.

Subscribed topics may be added to the user’s “Quicklist,” which is accessible via a button in the corner of the screen. By selecting an option from the Quicklist, the user may browse a feed of content solely on a specific topic. There is no obligation to add a subscribed topic to one’s Quicklist — if the user simply desires to subscribe to a topic so it shows up in the Top Stories feed, that is no problem.

Zite’s recommendation engine learns from the user’s behavior — specifically, the topics they subscribe to, the articles they read, give thumbs ups and thumbs downs to, and the sources they block. Over time, as the user teaches the app the things they are and are not interested in, the recommendations improve with more and more relevant content and, hopefully, less uninteresting content to be skipped past.

Zite is a simple but effective newsreading solution that works well. It’s slickly presented in a somewhat minimalist manner, resembling the iOS 6 music app in aesthetic, and doesn’t clutter its interface with unnecessary chrome or extraneous animations. It simply does what it sets out to do, which is to provide each user with their own continuously-updated magazine of articles about just the topics they are interested in — and it does this exceedingly well.

You can follow Zite 2.0’s progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.