CNN has come out with a feature filled iPhone app that delivers top news headlines, streaming video content, personalized local content and much more. The app has a slick design and was created from the ground up to work on iPhone and iPod touch devices. The CNN app is unfortunately not free, currently sells for $2 in the App Store.
Once you open the app, after seeing a “Sponsored by advertisement” you initially get a message saying, “CNN would like to send you push notifications, including alerts, sounds and icon badges.” We chose OK, knowing you can always change this in the settings later. The app is laid out with the well known icon tabs on the bottom: Headlines, My CNN, Video, and iReport. The Default tab is Headlines, which is further broken down into 10 categories that you can scroll through by sliding the topics left and right on the top. The topics are: Top Stories, World, U.S., Politics, Crime, Entertainment, Health, Travel, Tech, and Living. Its not surprising to see Crime come before both Health and Living. Swiping these subcategory listings lets you get to them. The text for these are quite small making the bar very narrow. So if you have bigger fingers it can be somewhat challenging to get the swipe to work every time. Each category highlights a top story with a large photo and subheading, and lists the remaining stories as a list with nice thumbnails and matching headlines in rows that you can scroll down to view.
As you tap to read a story, you sometimes will see a Video link featured in the CNN app that lets you watch the news story right on your iPhone or iPod touch. Videos are about 2-3 minutes each and seem to be exactly what you get online or on CNN, and they start out with an advertisement. You’ll also see banner ads scattered around the app, as you are looking through the CNN content. This makes us feel that the app should be free or at least half of what it costs.
Reading the news stories is a little awkward on the eyes, since they pages are black with white text, but some people might prefer this, and it is better for your battery life. Each story starts out with 2 bullet points that give you a nice short overview of what the article is about, followed by the full text of the story. You can share stories, follow topics, and save articles for later, all from slide up menu on these page. So once you are in a story reading page, you see a dot list of all the stories on the bottom of the screen, telling you that you can swipe the page left or right to view the next/previous articles without having to go back to the main index page again. This is great, but we noticed a time lag of a few seconds in the time it takes to be able to swipe to the next news story, as the CNN app seems to be connecting to the network to pre-fetch some data first. This lag is not a good user experience and makes the app feel a little sluggish, and took us a a while to get used to. We also noticed the same lag while trying to slide up and down to read other news headlines.
From the MyCNN tab, if you allow the CNN iPhone app to use your location, you’ll see location based news including weather for your city and traffic conditions. You can create multiple locations and switch between them as you need. Tapping weather shows you a 10 day forecast and a radar view. Tapping the traffic info takes you to a full list of freeway conditions in your area with data from Metro Traffic. Further tapping any freeway will open a Google map and show you exactly where the accident or sig alert is located and how sever the situation is. We love this feature and think they can be quite useful. Local news is fetched from Topix and is quite disappointing since it is not integrated into the CNN app, but instead loads a frame within to show you the Topix.net website with the story. Needless to say the local news stories take a very long time to load and are extremely hard to read. In MyCNN you also have 2 other sub tabs: Followed and Saved. When your follow a story it goes into your MyCNN tab with updates to the story shown to you with a red number, similar to your mail count. Saved stories are also shown here so you can read them anytime in the future.
The Video tab is similar to the Headlines tab in design, just with a different set of categories: Latest News, Most Popular, On TV, U.S. World, Entertainment, Tech, Offbeat, Politics, and Health. As you switch categories, a spinning loading icon appears for a few seconds while the list of videos is being fetched. Tap on any item to watch the Video. Tapping the Done button at anytime takes you back to where you left off in the CNN Mobile iPhone app. What is fun here is the landscape mode turns on coverflow for the videos and you can easily swipe the through thumbnails. The videos are on-demand clips but there is also live streaming video integrated which is probably the best feature in this app. When there is any breaking news event a Live marker appears on the Video tab. Tap it to watch live coverage from CNN Live on your iPhone, which compared to the feed coming from the CNN website is only about 1 or 2 seconds delayed. We loved this feature.
iReport is the user generated content section of CNN. This section has its own icon based sub tabs: Featured, Submit, Assignments, and CNN. In the features section you can watch iReport videos, share stories via SMS, email, Twitter and Facebook. Under the iPhone’s general settings, for the CNN app you can choose to log out of your Twitter, Facebook and iReport accounts when you close the app. iReport Videos again are preceded with an ad here. Send your very own iReport from the Submit tab by taking a photo from your iPhone or by choosing an existing one. You can either login, register or submit as Guest, if you don’t feel like creating an iReport account. The assignments section poses a question and requests users to submit solutions or suggestions to common issues. and even submit stories to the iReport site from the iPhone app anytime.
Overall we were impressed with the CNN app, and appreciate the ton of work that has gone into creating it. Besides the minor glitches with the network and the ads (the app also crashed on us twice when we rotated it to see the coverflow view and back to normal view) it is a good user experience. If you don’t mind ads, go buy this app and give it a whirl for yourself. The video content is quite good and could possibly give you something to watch while you’re not sitting in front of a computer or a TV, and the Live streaming video alerts give the CNN app a major selling point above the competition. The local content and traffic alerts are also very handy. Get rid of the ads or make if free like the USA Today app, and you’ve got yourself a winning iPhone app here.
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