At Product Runway today, Yahoo released a series of new apps and updates for iOS and Android, particularly targeting the iPad with an updated version of its Mail web app, a universal version of “media check-in” tool IntoNow, and Livestand, a new take on social magazines that we first covered earlier this year. According to Yahoo, these “new mobile, tablet, and PC experiences” will help the company deliver a “personal Web” to its users.
Yahoo already had an HTML5-based web email client specifically optimized for the iPad, and the update released today introduces some interface tweaks to quickly skim through weather information and local headlines from the Mail homepage, check out new items from Flickr contacts, and watch video from the Trending Now section. Yahoo says the new Mail homepage is touch-optimized to scroll through tiles, and users will be able to tap on a new items to open the associated Yahoo website in a new browser tab.
More information is available in Yahoo’s blog post.
IntoNow, acquired earlier this year by Yahoo, is also part of today’s updates. The “Shazam for TV” that enables the app to instantly recognize what’s playing on TV through audio recognition is now available on the iPad with a brand new interface as a universal update. IntoNow impressed us months ago with their audio matching technology that was capable of recognizing TV shows and movies, displaying content recommendations and letting users share and comment on what they were watching at the same time.
Picture this - press the green button while you’re watching TV and stats from that football game, tweets from that show’s actors, or related news headlines emerge on the topic your newscaster is talking about …. all in real time as you’re watching.
The new IntoNow app (version 2.0) is available on the App Store.
Last is Livestand, a new app that Yahoo started teasing months ago and promised would provide a better magazine-like experience for web articles thanks to direct partnerships with content providers and websites, as well the properties Yahoo already owns, such as News, Finance and Entertainment. After having tried the app for the past hour, I have to say Livestand is actually a very nice app – perhaps not as revolutionary as many thought it would be, but certainly a well-done piece of software with a good selection of content, good-looking UI, and nice animations for the iPad. To start using Livestand, Yahoo offers you the choice to manage up to 4 user accounts – great for iPads in the family – that can be associated to a Yahoo account or Facebook profile. I chose my Yahoo account, as I’ve already got one in place and figured I might give it a shot after a long time with Livestand.
Upon launch, Livestand greets you immediately with Featured content on the bottom (there are thumbnail images for publications like Forbes, Consumer Reports and several other Yahoo properties) and “Personal Mix” at the top.
There’s also another “Yahoo Today” tile you can tap on, and this will open a new page that aggregates relevant content such as current weather for your location, stocks, TV shows available today, and news. The design of the Yahoo Today page is an immediate indication of what to expect from the app – large photos and banners with headlines, tiles to scroll through, nicely formatted articles and smooth animations.
What intrigued me the most about Livestand was the Personal Mix, a section that lets you manually pick publications from a variety of topics including News, Technology, Business and Lifestyle. In the Technology area, I found websites like TUAW and MacRumors, AllThingsD and Lifehacker – a pretty good selection of sources that Yahoo says will increase over time. Available websites are presented in a very elegant way in the Personal Mix browser, with banners for featured publications and a clear “+” button to subscribe and add a website to your mix. Yahoo says that Livestand is smart and will be able to tailor articles to your tastes as “personalization” of the system grows over time, but this obviously can’t be tested right now after a few hours of availability. Overall, however, there’s no doubt the style and presentation of content are a huge plus on Yahoo’s side (the Personal Mix browser and Featured sections also reminded me of Flipboard’s Staff Picks and Featured items).
The app features a software “back button” that always sits at the side of the screen, providing you with a way to “go back” from any screen. In skimming through headlines from Yahoo Finance, Scene, News and other publications, I’ve noticed Yahoo put a lot of effort in giving many sources a unique and distinctive look, with different layout options, typography, and so forth. The basic interaction schemes are consistent across the app (swipe vertically to scroll, swipe horizontally in article view to switch between posts) and the back button really comes in handy when you just want to “go back to the homepage”, albeit I wish it was possible to pinch & zoom like in Flipboard. Unlike the “iPad app of the Year 2010”, Livestand comes with a sidebar for bookmarks (organized in Recent, Topics and Articles) and, overall, it has a feeling of “magazine” with publications and sources you subscribe to that’s a bit different from Flipboard’s beautiful formatting of Twitter and Facebook streams.
Indeed, Livestand doesn’t let you check on your Twitter and Facebook timelines, access Google Reader or create magazines off Twitter lists: the publications offered by the app are standalone, and presumably the result of Yahoo’s deals with the publishers. I didn’t even find an option to share an article on Twitter – only Facebook.
Whilst you can decide to avoid manual subscriptions and simply rely on Yahoo’s featured content, those websites that you’ll add from the Personal Mix will get a completely different view than, say, Yahoo Finance or Yahoo Today. The Personal Mix – dubbed “bookmarks at a glance” – offers a column-based view for all the websites you’ve decided to follow, with their most recent articles and a green “Read More” button to enter another single-website view (see screenshot above). When you tap on an article, you’re brought to a Livestand-formatted version of the content you’d normally see on the web, laid out on multiple pages you can scroll vertically. If you want to read articles on a site-by-site basis, tap Read More, and you’ll find a “grid” of articles from a single website. Sometimes, this website-specific page also displays a Twitter column for the Twitter account of a publication, and if you tap on it you’ll notice the Twitter stream has also been redesigned for Livestand. It’s quite nice.
Interestingly, from a first test Livestand appears to be a well-realized original product from Yahoo. The app has a nice design, content selection is good for being a first version, and Yahoo’s own sources have been visually reformatted to fit the iPad’s screen. There’s some work to do (app doesn’t work in portrait mode, I couldn’t find Twitter sharing) and I’ve stumbled upon design choices I honestly don’t understand (text can’t be copied but there are hyperlinks; “how to use this app” tutorial comes up after you’ve logged in), but I look forward to seeing where this Yahoo experiment is going, if it’ll manage to “stick around” for the next months and how, exactly, the company plans to “personalize information” as you keep using the app. In the meantime, Livestand is a free download.