INQ is taking the fight to the likes of Flipboard and Pulse in launching a content aggregation app called Material.
Looking to add differentiation, INQ is analysing your social network use to identify your interests and tailor your content accordingly - feeding off what INQ calls your "social DNA". The app was first demonstrated at CES 2013 in alpha build, but has now reached beta and is available for all to download.
Initially the app is for Android smartphones and hasn’t been optimised for tablet use, but Ken Johnstone, CEO and founder of INQ Mobile, told us that tablet support was planned for the future, as are iPhone and iPad apps. A desktop version will also be released.
INQ is no stranger to "social DNA". The brief foray into devices with the INQ Cloud Touch back in 2011 very much centred around a granular integration of services like Facebook, helping important content rise to the surface.
That ethos still sits at the core of what INQ is working on, and demonstrating the Material app, the same applies here. On start-up, rather than nominating or subscribing to news sources, you sign-in to Material with your Facebook and Twitter accounts.
"We’ve taken our unique experience of building Android smartphones with social networks at their heart to power Material," said Johnstone. "Material pores over millions of pieces of content to deliver just the right items that you will find entertaining, interesting or informative."
The app analyses those networks and lifts out your interests, giving you a curated take on the news. We tried it and it came up with News, Technology (natch), along with Film and, somewhat bizarrely, the Olympics. What it didn’t identify was a thick stream of innuendo and sarcasm, but that’s another story.
In this sense Material is serving up things you’ve already demonstrated an interest in socially. You can add topics, with a search function letting you find topics to include, but there doesn't appear to be a way to reject content you don't like.
The app itself is simply but elegantly designed, letting you scroll down content, picking stories off the grid. Big pictures and big headlines are the name of the game, linking though to a window that will let you read the story at source.
So if Material has picked out a story from The Telegraph, for example, you’ll then read it on The Telegraph’s website, rather than a re-hashed version in the app, which we like. The clever thing, however, is that the "browser" window you use will just scroll into the next story, so you don’t have to jump back and forth as you read.
But because Material collects stories from a wide range of sources, you’ll find yourself discovering new publications, stepping away from the obvious titles. So content discovery is one of the strengths of Material, which from our play so far has delivered on its promise of being entertaining and informative.
The content of Material is designed to update twice daily in "editions". The first is timed for the morning, so you can wake up, grab your phone for your journey to work and it’s ready and waiting for you. The app will then update later in the day, giving you a fresh selection of stories.
Sharing is integrated into the app, hitting the menu button will give you a menu offering to share through the normal Android channels, open in a real browser like Chrome or refresh the page.
Material is free and available on Google Play now.