App Review: Guide

Today I got an email from a friend announcing the launch of her team‘s new app, Guide. The concept is fantastic: it styles itself as a newsreader app that turns online news and blogs into TV.

From their description in the App Store:

Screenshot from the Guide app

She looks normal here (except for the nineties flannel…because all news anchors dress that caj) but believe you me, it’s weird when her lips move and eyes blink robotically.

Guide allows you to consume more of your favorite web content while you do other tasks like working, exercising, cooking, eating, or even getting ready in the morning. Our news anchors read the content to you while presenting the most important elements from the article like videos, images, and comments.

Now that’s an app I can get behind: I love the idea of listening and barely watching while I do other things (knit, for example). So I was one of…everyone else on the planet, apparently who downloaded this app yesterday. But I have to say, I don’t get it.

There really isn’t much point in this being a video app. Audio, yes. A entire screen filled with automaton-anchors that mimic speakers, however, doesn’t seem worth it. Why would I watch that?

This really makes more sense as an audio app, not a video app. One really nice thing about it is that it will still play the audio when you switch to another app, so you really can multi-task within the iPad. That part is good. But the biggest drawback, at this time, is that I’m restricted to their chosen “channels” of content. Not good enough. If it could read aloud the articles I have in Instapaper, then wow! I’d be all about this app. I assume it needs some manual tweaking, which is why they control the content. Hopefully in the future it will read anything. Then I’ll happily listen along with the app in the background.

screenshot from Guide appA few more thoughts:

  • Guide is not a great name. The URL is clever. But the problem is that when one searches for “guide ipad app,” one gets results for online guides on how to use an iPad. Plus, they’re not guiding you anywhere. It just doesn’t work.
  • It mixes metaphors. One article I listened to today had the phrase “as evidenced by the brand’s ‘Signature’ silhouette you see above.” Actually, it’s not above. This app is trying to move us from the spatial to the temporal, but since the articles were written for spatial display, the metaphors don’t match.
  • Context matters. One article, “UK dropping fitness requirements for cyberwarfare specialists,” was originally posted with a photograph of a dude’s flipflopped feet on a desk next to a desktop, a can of Coke, and a slice of pizza. It helped set the context for the article (which appeared on a site called Geekosystem). Now, in Guide, the photo is displayed next to the talking dog. Um…? Frankly, in this new context, the flipflop-wearing hacker doesn’t seem so silly, does he?

So, all in all, I think this could be really great if they dropped the robot news anchors, and instead had the text scrolling across the screen or something. At least that way you’d be able to catch up if you stopping listening for a second. And they need to make it capable of reading any article (in English, at least). Once it can read this blog back to me, I’ll be (narcissistically) happy.

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