updated 09:20 pm EST, Tue February 15, 2011
An early look at Yahoo Newsstand at MWC
Yahoo was showing its new live tablet magazine, Yahoo Newsstand, at Mobile World Congress. They gave Electronista a first-hand demo of how it works in practice and what to expect when it goes live in the first half of the year. Continue reading for our experience of the Android and iPad native app.
The first thing apparent from the outset is that, despite the HTML5 roots, Newsstand is definitely a native app; many features are handled using elements that wouldn't be possible otherwise. That said, the company has gone a long way towards making as much of the content as seamless as possible, and some clever HTML5 tricks exist. The stock ticker can switch from a stylized to a purely informational view using only web code.
Articles and other content can easily be reflowed from device to device, Yahoo reminded us, and both the iPad and a Galaxy Tab on demo displayed the same material even with very different screen sizes and resolutions.
The actual content itself, divided into channels, is difficult to gauge. Most of it right now is unsurprisingly drawing directly from Yahoo's own news channels for sports and other material, but the search engine has so far been pitching mostly products. Nike currently has its own channel as well. Yahoo is vowing that publishers will have the option of hooking into Newsstand, but it will likely be those who don't mind being entirely ad-supported; you won't see a News Corp paper like the Wall Street Journal here.
Thankfully, it's not the only reason to stay around. Yahoo Answers and Mail are in the app and give a good reason to keep it open even if you don't read the news often. Yahoo Answers won't set minds alight, but it's useful if there's a question. More useful are Facebook updates and other social networking. Yahoo is keen to avoid the mistake of usual tablet magazines that are ultimately just a collection of non-interactive images.
Audio, video and other elements can plug into Newsstand, though what caught our eye were the ads. An HP ad for iPad printing showed the potential: tap the ad and a paper plane inside would fly out for a brief mini-game followed by a fully controllable, full screen ad. It's not unlike what Apple is doing with iAd, but it's something frequently missing in other tablet reading.
Newsstand is well executed. What we're wondering, though, is whether Yahoo can get enough substantial, varied content to keep it going. Print publishers coming over to the iPad or Android have the luxury of brand recognition. Internet-focused apps like Flipboard have the advantage of a truly social approach that can pull articles from Facebook or Twitter friends. Yahoo mostly has its established reputation, which isn't easy to promote in the face of Google. Regardless, it's still a more varied and sometimes more professional app than most.