App of Note – Funny or Die News Flash
UPDATE: August 2016. This app is no longer being offered. But read on and remember a cool concept, and hope for something similar to return to the news landscape. We can all use a little humor in our daily news!
I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a news junkie. I do my best to stick to tech news and the major headlines, and I try to stay away from the comment sections. I think it’s good to be informed, but in a world where endless news articles are just a click away, some balance is required to not find yourself immersed by the torrent. Enter, smart news applications.
Smart News apps are designed to give you a quick burst of news. Not too much, but not too little. I’ve already reviewed one of my favorites, Yahoo News Digest, in a previous “App of Note”. Today I want to introduce you to another. And I’ll get this out of the way first, it is currently iOS only. So if you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, you are out of luck for the moment. But do read on, for this sweet little news app will certainly come to Android in the future, and if you’ve got a good sense of humor, and a tolerance for minor vulgarity, this news app will keep you informed while it’s making you laugh, and it’s called “Funny or Die News Flash”.
What Makes a Good Smart news App?
In my opinion, every Smartnews app should meet the following criteria:
1. Scheduled Delivery– Smartnews should come at specific times during the day, versus constantly being updated. That way you can read all the content, and you know you’re done until the next delivery. Just like the good ole newspaper!
2. Short Informative Articles – Smartnews should be a quick read. I’m talking about the walk from the car to the office, or an elevator ride. You should barely need to scroll down through the article, because your goal is to know the top stories and that’s it. There are plenty of apps offering a more lengthy take on the news of the day (see #3)
3. Links, Links, and more Links – While a smartnews app is designed to be a short read it should offer links to get to longer articles, or even related articles from within the app.
4. Social Element – Smartnews should at the very least offer buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Text, and Email. That way if you read an article you want to share with others, it’s just a click to send it on it’s way.
5. Intelligent Swiping – This one might just be me, but every smartnews app I’ve used makes use of up/down and left/right swiping in intuitive ways. That’s the key to a quick read. Read what is on the screen, swipe left, read the next story, swipe left, and so on. You want to send to Facebook, swipe up, click the icon, and off it goes. If a smartnews app is clunky, it is no longer serving it’s purpose.
So let’s see how the “Funny or Die News Flash” application stacks up to my criteria.
It Offers a Good News Spectrum
The app takes brevity to a whole new level. Each “story” is designed with two sections. The first part is the informative news piece. The second part is the joke related to the first part. It can literally be two sentances. That certainly puts the “flash” in news flash. But while the articles are incredibly short, they are also very diverse. US, International, Business, Entertainment, Sports, Tech. They don’t all show up each day, but I’ve seen them all appear from time to time. I checked the articles showing in the app against some of my other favorite smartnews apps, and I found they all had similar stories, because they all cover the most popular things in the media at the time. So for “short informative articles” Funny or Die News Flash nails it.
It Offers Social Element and Links
Each article includes a “share” button, which allows you to send the story to a wide variety of sources. These include Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Flipboard, and Pocket. Along with standard email and text links. Across from the “share” button is a link to the “Full Story”, which includes the name of the source (i.e. Baltimore Sun, Telegraph). Clicking this link takes you into Safari and you are able to read the entire story, which is great. So “Funny or Die News Flash” is solid with “link, links, and more links” and the “social element”.
It Offers a Slick Interface
One reason I love the Yahoo News Digest is how the swiping works. There you just swipe left/right to go through the articles, and up/down to read the articles. The “Funny or Die News Flash” just takes out the up/down element. Each articles is a single page, and you swipe left/right through them. You might be think, “what’s so slick about that?”. Well the really cool part is the video element. This is the first app I’ve seen that basically has a GIF running for every story, relevant to the article it covers. That means you actually have a short video (muted), playing while you read the story. It looks great. It loads fast! So “intelligent swiping” is a solid yes.
Where it Hits, and Where it Misses
The other thing “Funny or Die News Flash” has that no other smartnews app I’ve seen has is the humor. I’ve found myself laughing out loud at some of the jokes they tie to current headlines. It’s like having a comedian reading the news, which is really the only way the news should be read in my opinion. I get to be informed and entertained at the same time. So that is a big HIT for this application.
The only element I find frustrating is related to “scheduled delivery”. The app seems to only refresh at certain times during the day, but there’s no control over that (like there is in other smartnews apps, like Yahoo News Digest). And I have found that they tend to add new articles to the front of the “news feed” while leaving some articles on the back end that I’ve already read. Those jokes were certainly funny the first time I read them, but they lose their kick the next go around. And I really want to swipe to the very end, because that’s when the Funny or Die News Flash delivers, what I think is it’s best joke (to the right).
The Whole Cup Summed Up
Smartnews apps are a great way to get fast news on mobile devices. They keep you informed while not taking up too much of your time. It’s the perfect tool for someone constantly on the go. Who has time to watch CNN, MSNBC, or the rest of the 24 hour news cycle anyway? With “Funny or Die News Flash” your in, you laugh, your out, and more clued in to what is going on in the news for the day.
If you have an iPhone and a good sense of humor, pick up the Funny or Die News Flash right now! It’s free and it’s hilarious. Well worth the few minutes it takes to get through the content. And if the news stories of the day aren’t so rosey, don’t they say that laughter is the best medicine?
Now we’re staring at our wrists!! – The Apple Watch is Coming – PART 1
This was originally posted on Sept 10, 2014, just after the Apple Watch was first announced. Now that we have a release date (April 24th), I plan to write a follow up in the coming week, discussing the pros and cons of Apple’s entrance into wrist-tech, including highlighting its features. But for now, check out my original first impressions of what a “computer on your wrist” could mean. And stay tuned for “part 2” in the coming days.
We have a rule in our house, “no tech at the table”. It’s a rule we follow most of the time, and it’s there for a very specific reason. Over the years that we’ve had smartphones and tablets in our house, we’ve noticed a distinct drop in how much we interact with each other. Instead of conversations about our days, we end up staring at our smartphone screens all evening long. So at least for a brief moment, there is “no tech at the table”. But what about when the “tech” is strapped on to your wrist?
Like all tech geeks, I spent two hours yesterday (Sept 9th) listening to the keynote address from Apple, where they unveiled new iPhones and the Apple Watch. And while the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are decent evolutions of the smartphone model for iPhone (bigger, brighter, faster), the Apple Watch is trying to be the definition of the newest category in tech: smartwatches. And based on my experiences with technology in my own house, I have to wonder what the impact of this new category will be.
Technology is saturating our society. From smart appliances, smart door locks, smart light bulbs, and smart thermostats and smoke detectors; technology is increasingly something you cannot get away from. The older generations that resisted the personal computer could do so because there were alternatives. In the coming years, you probably won’t be able to buy a microwave oven without a smartphone app to run it, and so sitting out on the next wave of tech advancements won’t be an option for anyone. But as our lives are infiltrated by technological advancements, the balance must not be lost with how we interact on a personal level.
I believe that the best technology is the kind that doesn’t take your attention away from what you are doing. That could be as simple as a media streamer that you are fighting with to watch a new episode on Hulu. Suddenly the joy of streaming internet television is lost, to a battle with failed technology. Smartphones have been the culprit of many failed personal connections ever since they came to dominate our society. I know many people who have “no tech” days during the week, and that’s a great idea. I’m far from alone in the realization that our personal technology is causing us to become impersonal, causing us to lose our connections to friends and family. And I worry that the amazing features of the new Apple Watch will not help in the struggle to keep those connections.
I thought a bit about how in films the future is full of technology that permeates all aspects of society. And then I thought about how in many visions of the future everyone is dressed the same way, usually in jumpsuits. And it dawned on me, the clothes they wear don’t matter any more. Because they no longer actually see each other. I see a future where we are all walking around staring at our phones, or now staring at our wrists. A world where we forget the voices of our friends, and only know them by emoticon and instant message. We can call that a more modern way to be connected, but is it better?
So when Apple releases their new Watch April 24, 2015, consider how much of your life that device might consume. Is the technology enhancing your life? Are your personal connections to friends and family made better because of this device? I would argue devices can do such things (the Pebble Time is a good example of a minimalist wristband, at a fraction of the cost of the Apple Watch), but we must be wary. And if you do buy the Apple Watch, make sure you don’t spend too much money on the most expensive model and band itself. Because if you’re looking for your new smartwatch to be a status symbol you might be disappointed, since chances are no one will be looking at you anyway.
Apps of Note – Yahoo News Digest
In recent years Yahoo has been in the midst of a brand shift. They changed everything from their leadership to their logo. The company that was the “Google” of its day, has been looking for a way to get our attention, especially on our smartphones and tablets. They released a Weather App, which I also highly recommend. That app took advantage of the finger swiping we’ve all grown accustomed to on our hand-held devices. I’ve been using Yahoo weather since the day it was released. When I heard that Yahoo was releasing a News App, I was pretty excited to see if they could give me a similar experience, but this time instead of the 10 day forecast or storm warnings, they would give me a dose of the daily news. In my opinion, they certainly delivered.
Do you like to be informed on the daily news without feeling the need to become a news-junkie? Do you prefer your news to come in a package that you can knock out in five minutes flat? Then I’ve got the app for you. It’s called the “Yahoo News Digest”.
The real genius of the Yahoo News Digest is you get the amount of news you want, which can be a quick glance, or an in-depth read. It’s up to you how far you want to dig. When you open the app, you get a list of 7-12 news stories stacked for a quick scroll through vertically. Each story is categorized (World, US News, Politics, Arts, Science, Entertainment, etc.). If you just want to see the high level news, one swipe and you’re done. Just the headlines and sentence or two. To go another level in, just tap which ever story you want to read and a short news article appears. Swipe up and down and you can read the article. Swipe left and right and you’ll be jumping through each of
the articles you had in the main screen. It’s fast!
Each article includes links to larger news stories, or relevant articles to consider for further reading. Once you’ve read all the articles available, you get a “Did you Know” fact that is related to the day or one of the articles you’ve just finished. It doesn’t take long to quickly scan through all the content, which is saying something in the world of the never-ending news cycle.
The Digest is delivered twice a day, and you set the time you want to receive it. My morning digest comes at 7am, and my evening one at 6pm. Finally the app has all the standard social networking links, so if you want to tweet about an article, post it to your Facebook wall, or email it to a friend, the buttons are right there for your clicking pleasure.
The Cup Half Empty
The Yahoo News Digest is intended to be a “twice a day news” resource. If you want up-to-the-minute breaking news stuff, the Digest will not suit your needs. I put that as a “half empty” element, though for me, I like that it doesn’t constantly update with new information. Once I’ve read my 10 articles, I’m done till the next Digest is delivered.
You also have basically no control over what news you receive. Most news apps have a lot of customization built into them. Not interested in Kim Kardashian and the Hollywood crowd? Just turn of the “entertainment news” and you’re good to go. That’s not an option with the Yahoo News Digest. Though I’ve never seen a Kardashian article yet, so that’s good. Everyone gets the same “paper” for every daily edition, and for many that could be seen as a bad thing, in an age where we like everything customized for us.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
The Yahoo News Digest is trying to do something very specific. Provide two daily doses of relevant news for the masses. The interface is clean and easy to use. The tap and swipe approach makes this app great for people just getting into smart phone and tablets. The ability to read stories quickly, but also dig deeper into the “in-depth” elements is great for a news-junkie like me.
But at the same time, Yahoo’s “one size fits all” approach to the app will certainly frustrate some users who want to only see news about things they are interested in. If that’s you, I recommend checking out “SmartNews”, which take news customization to a crazy place, and is also one of my go-to news apps that I use every single day.
I really like the Yahoo News Digest and think that it truly is news for masses. It’s the daily and evening paper of yester-year in a cool new package. So stay informed without the distraction of news apps that consume time and attention. Because it’s much better to experience the world than read about it.
Available on Apple and Android Smartphones and Tablets for FREE!