Microsoft hits a home run with this brilliant iPhone app

It works better than Flipboard, which is a major win.

I dissed the Cortana app for iOS. Yet, I use Outlook for iOS as my main email app on both the iPhone and the iPad. Now, Microsoft has made a news app called News Pro that competes directly with Flipboard, the News app from Apple, and countless other readers.

So, is it any good?

Drum roll please....

The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, it's brilliant.

The app does an amazing job of finding stories related to your job, skills, and interests. It cuts out the fluff and makes news reading easier.

It starts with an easy setup process. You can help the app out by signing in with LinkedIn or Facebook. I chose LinkedIn because I know that service has a much richer biography for my skills and resume. I worked perfectly. The app chose the buckets for “Freelance” and “Writing and Editing” and immediately showed articles about what it takes to launch a journalism school and some news about a new fitness magazine.

I clicked on the Me icon and added a few more interests, including “Creative Writing” (since I had a new interest in short stories) and a few related to photography. When you search for new categories, you can see a list of organizations, skills, and products. It’s pretty slick, but more importantly, it works. I found about a dozen articles that interested me right away, which is far different from what happens with more generic apps I use like Prismatic (which doesn’t seem to exist anymore) which had too many general categories and a splatter of thumbnails. As usual, it’s all about the algorithms, and Microsoft--thanks to their Microsoft Garage dev team--has nailed it.

The app is also speedy. With other readers, I have noticed there is sometimes a weird pause as the app fetches news or load images and text. With the News app, which is installed by default on an iPhone or iPad, it seems to take forever to scroll through the news feed as it reloads. News Pro lets you drag up and release to fetch new stories, placing one in a prime spot. Stories load quickly with a properly-sized thumbnail.

Speaking of speedy -- there’s a mode in News Pro after you select an article to read called Speedy that removes some of the extra formatting and images. It helped me focus on a story posted today on The Huffington Post about how to consume books faster without the fluff. You can “like” an article, which puts them all in that Me tab for later viewing. If you comment, you can review what you said in the same tab. The comment doesn’t not appear with the article, though.

The search is handy. I like reading Gizmodo articles, and if you search for “Gizmodo” in the app, it recognizes that you mean the site and shows a link, which then creates a channel. If you want to save that channel, you select the checkbox. It couldn’t be easier.

I’m impressed with how Microsoft is developing these apps for iOS, even if Cortana was such a mess. News Pro reminds me of the Outlook app in that it makes every feature seem like it was designed for people who don’t have a ton of time to figure out weird settings and tabs and are not engineers. News Pro has an intuitive flow that puts the emphasis on finding stories and reading them. It puts the interface in the background where it belongs. Nice job, keep the good stuff coming!

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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