Last Thursday, March 20, the Tribune Company released a new app from their digital innovation branch: Newsbeat.
Newsbeat, a free voice-over application, consumes 7,000 pieces of news a day from various news sources and reads articles aloud to mobile phone users. Shashi Seth, the President of Tribune Digital Ventures and the developer of this product, has negotiated deals with about 75% of the U.S. publications market, an Adage article says.
The app is targeted at commuters and serves as a radio news replacement. The Verge writer Chris Welch explains in his article that it “kicks things off with a quick weather report and highlights any major traffic problems in your area.” Not only does the app serve as a substitute for radio, but it also can be considered a news version of Pandora. Like Pandora, the Tribune is attempting to customize user experience. Newsbeat users are able to select which stories they want audibly conveyed and can skip over any articles they choose.
The idea itself is not entirely new; in fact, there exist numerous voice-over reading apps for smartphones. For example, the Android Voice Aloud Reader reads aloud the text displayed in an Android app and, unlike Newsbeat, is not limited to news stories. The same concept applies to the RSS Voice Reader, available for both the iPhone and Android. Voice Dream, too, reads text aloud, and it is catered specifically to people with reading disabilities or blindness. It allows readers to load and manage reading material and includes various visual interaction features, such as highlighting and note taking.
What makes Newsbeat any different from other voice-over applications? The primary difference appears to be the type of voice-over technology. While other apps are limited to a synthetic, monotonous voice, “Tribune employs voice artists to read the top-100 or so stories,” according to the Adage article. The same Siri-like technology as other voice-over applications reads the rest of the stories.
Recorded voice-overs are certainly easier to understand and flow more smoothly than robotic readings. The customizable user experience is a plus, too. Furthermore, Newsbeat is paid for by ads that come up approximately every ten minutes, so users can download the app for free. Other than these features, though, Newsbeat is not entirely different from other voice-over apps. Will Newsbeat be more successful than its predecessors? Perhaps only time will tell.
Have you used Newsbeat or any other read-aloud application? What has your experience been? Please feel free to comment below.