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CNN jumps on the news app bandwagon

Mel Martin

CNN released CNN Mobile [iTunes link], an impressive news app but there are some caveats.

The app is loaded with features, including the latest international and US News, local weather and traffic, and the ability to share stories with email, SMS, Facebook and Twitter.

You can follow topics that are of interest to you, and they get placed in a special spot you can access with a tap of your finger.

You can also shoot video if you have an iPhone 3GS, and send it along to CNN. All in all, it's as full featured a news app as anyone could hope for, and includes live streaming of breaking events.

If you turn your phone to landscape mode, you get a kind of cover flow of stories, where you can drag your finger across the screen and explore stories in an interesting way.

It's not all good news with this app however. It costs US$1.99, which is a bit pricey when much of the competition is free. Even worse, there are ads. Ads when you start it up. Ads when you view a video. Ads when you scroll down a list of stories.

It would have been nice if CNN had done either a paid app, or a free app with ads, but here users get the double whammy.

Louis Gump, VP of Mobile for CNN says CNN believes the app has more features than any other news app and is worth the money. He added that after much debate they decided that a dual revenue model was both fair to the consumer, and allowed them to offer a much richer experience than an ad-only model.

That will be for the customers to decide. Forgetting the cost of the app, and the ad issue, there are some other things to talk about.

I find the app pretty hard on the eyes. The screens are very busy, and like the AP Mobile app, it suffers from too many graphics and too little news on each screen. Today, a breaking news logo popped up on a story, and it took almost the whole iPhone screen. I'd have liked to get some more information rather than a graphic that was generic.

Then there is the matter of 'live' news. If you tap the button marked live, you generally get news summaries that are not live at all. I have a pet peeve about news organizations who are dishonest in their marketing, and this certainly qualifies. I was expecting a live stream of CNN, but that was not at all what I got. In fact, under the live button are dozens of pre-taped stories. CNN says it will offer breaking news live, but I didn't see anything today that would qualify.

The local news is a nice touch, and CNN has partnered with newspapers and local CNN affiliates to provide content. It was nice to get weather and traffic info all in one app, and CNN is to be applauded for the initiative at getting so many features on board.

So what we have is a very ambitious app, that is not unlike the CNN on cable and satellite. Lots of news, not a great deal of depth, and some misleading promotion making things sound better than they are, i.e. the 'live' button.

All in all, this is a good solid app with room for improvement. People will have to decide if they want to spend money, and suffer through a lot of ads. One good feature. They won't have to watch Wolf Blitzer.

CNN mobile runs on the iPhone and iPod touch, and runs on any iPhone/touch OS, but is optimized for 3.1.

Let's hear from our readers. Tempted to buy? Or does the cost and the advertising put you off?

Here are some screen grabs so you can see the app running:

Gallery: CNN Mobile | 4 Photos

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