A look at Hitpad & Zite for iPad

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Flipboard for iPad has set the bar quite high for up and coming news aggregating iPad apps who aim to imitate their secret formula: a simple clean elegant UI, fun and compelling to use, one that makes you keep coming back for the experience. I recently discovered two apps – Zite and Hitpad – that both aim to please in much the same way as Flipboard does, bringing news you can use in an iPad-friendly smart-swiping way. The two have slightly different approaches – I can’t help wondering which one will find a permanent place in my app habits.

Let’s first take a look at Hitpad (iTunes link). This app focuses on trends: giving you the top trending topics of the day under the headings News, Tweets, Videos, Web and Photos. You can switch from Top Stories to Entertainment, Business, Sports, Technology, Canada/U.K./U.S./World news. If the list of trending topics bore you, type in a search term like let’s say “Lady Gaga” and you’re fed with news, tweets etc about her Gaganess.

While the premise is interesting, it feels not-quite-there-yet. Selecting a news article shows you a snippet preview much as you’d expect, which opens up an in-app browser window for better reading. But the transitions aren’t as fluid as and the navigation isn’t as intuitive as you’d think. Swiping back does not take you back to the entire result selection: To view it again, you have to re-touch the search term. And you can’t click on the featured post at the top of the app screen to view more either. Not quite there yet.

It promises to get better at finding things that interest you the more you use it. In a future update the devs say it will be possible to add personal social streams and that they are “working on finding the right balance between the two categories.” Sounds promising.

All in all I think it can work well as a go-to app for a quick look-through of trending topics but it won’t satisfy a serious news junkie’s thirst for in-depth articles and true read-worthy gems.

The other app I’ve been using a lot lately is Zite for iPad, which does a nice job of collecting and presenting aggregated content –news items and blog posts- in a neat appealing package. Borrowing from Flipboard’s white minimalist screen, it divides content into Top Stories and Sections, the latter of which you can customize to your own liking. It’s simple, streamlined and performs well.

After using the app for a week I can honestly say that it suggested many sources and posts from authors I had not previously encountered. And it behaves in very fun way, flipping an article open to reveal content, flipping it back again upon closing. In addition there’s the personalization side tab, presumably where all the intelligent algorithms are recorded to ensure that the user experience is fine-tuned with each click. Unlike Hitpad – you can add google reader, twitter to the app to ensure even smarter choices.

A quick comparison of the user experience with the two apps from my point of view shows the following:

With Zite, I felt more in control of the content presented, more in touch with it – it’s really an interactive app, encouraging input from the reader and making it easy to share and navigate through the different feed results. Its makers have sweat out the details – the look of the app is refined, even the default font is appealing. At this point it doesn’t need much refining, though I wish I could get even more content refreshed more often.

With Hitpad, I like the UI less. I find it poorly designed and not well executed. There’s almost too much to see on the screen and nothing that focuses your attention. This will hopefully be improved in future updates. However, I do think it could find its niche in what its premise promises. Checking trending topics by theme represents a novel way of finding news. Constantly refreshed, it gives a great way to check what the web has to offer thematically.

Both apps are free so I’d recommend you give both a chance and see which tickles your fancy.

Hitpad (iTunes link) and Zite (iTunes link) are available on the App Store for free.

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