The Wall Street Journal for the BlackBerry: One Cool Mobile App

The Wall Street Journal recently released their new mobile reader for the BlackBerry. It is completely free and offers content from the Wall Street Journal network like wsj.com and marketwatch.com among others in a number of configurable category-like tabs (News, Tech, Opinion, etc). Some screenshots available at blackberrycool.

I have been using the BlackBerry reader for the past week or so and have been quite impressed by it. It does a lot of neat things, makes use of clever constructs in unobtrusive ways that will no doubt make it a solid hit with BlackBerry users and maybe even give us all a glimpse of where the future for many mobile software applications may lie.

Here are some of the things that impressed me:

  • Slick and very responsive UI. Going down the news feed and flipping between panels was blazing fast, something that isn’t as easily done on a mobile device as it can be on a desktop computer. The UI was looking pretty styling in my opinion too.
  • Clever, intuitive navigation. Flipping between tabs is also so intuitive and quick you barely notice it. I also like how the app visually distinguishes between an article that hasn’t been read (the title appears darker) and one that hasn’t been scanned (red star next to title). This creates an instant awareness of your reading or scanning progress down the news feed.
  • Customizable news criteria. Each one of the tabs is further customizable to include part or all of a number of sub-categories and geographical regions. My favorite is the My Keywords tab where you get to enter a bunch of keywords and all recent articles that match the criteria come up.
  • Headlines that appear in full. By using a normal (i.e. not bold) font the application can show a longer string of text per line (surprisingly, I didn’t find things any less readable as a consequence). If need be, the title continues on a second line, thus never cutting off a headline halfway through. I hate it when similar applications like Viigo cut off the article title and put ‘…’ in the end, sometimes leaving you cueless as to what the article is actually about.

The Wall Street Journal has a very ‘straight goods’ approach to news coverage, so going down the article feed feels something like a twitter feed of world events (well, world events from a capitalist point of view, I guess). Pretty neat nevertheless.

  • BlackBerry integration. Being a native application and not a web-based one has the added benefit of integrating with standard BlackBerry applications like the Address Book. I like spamming my friends with WSJ articles I find interesting, so this feature comes in handy. Sending the article to Facebook and del.icio.us is also available for every article, by the way.
  • Free. Did I mention this thing is free of charge? Now, when something of like Wall Street Journal content is offered for free, people naturally wonder for how long. While it’s true that the WSJ guys may be just releasing it out for free to test the waters, a case can be made that the app will probably stay free for a long time time. There are 15 million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide and the rate is growing at double digits year over year – much better than WSJ’s numbers. This fact is probably not lost on the WSJ folks. And with a whole line-up of obvious advertiser choices like the various online brokerages and wealth management firms this thing might prove profitable and in the process might even give the mobile advertising space a bit of an adrenaline shot.

Now, it’s not like the Wall Street Journal has suddenly jumped in the business of BlackBerry software development. They have chosen, and quite wisely, somebody else to do it. So all the development credits here go to the smart folks at Freerange.

Some things could use improvement though and there were minor annoyances as well:

  • Buggy My Keywords tab that just wouldn’t accept a ticker symbol as a valid keyword and throwing a nasty error 999.
  • Advertising banner a bit too large. I know, people need to make money off these things, but having the banner consume 1/3 of the screen feels a bit too much at times. Add to that the space required for the tab navigation and the header (the latter can be set to not show up via the settings) and you get about 1/2 of the screen taken by “administrative” stuff. I think that with a little bit of cleverness the banner can be reduced to at most 20% without any loss of visibility.
  • Where is the Digg button??
  • ‘Dumb’ keywords – entering “BlackBerry” in the My Keywords tab settings brought up an article on the Dying Art of Harvesting BlackBerries and putting Amazon brought articles on deforestation in Brazil. Yeah, I know, reading people’s minds is tough, but the ability to combine keywords in a meaningful Google-like search and apply it to the incoming article feed would be pretty cool thing to have in the next version.

But overall a very well-designed and pretty useful BlackBerry application that is definitely worth a try.  Cudos to the guys at Freerange. And hey, if you are reading this and work for their UI team, give me a call. Lunch is on me 🙂

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2 comments so far

  1. David Boyd on

    Thanks for the incredible review!

    I would like to also add that original UI design was done by CloudFour (http://www.cloudfour.com/blog/). They did an excellent job.

    In regards to the annoyances you listed:

    – We’re leveraging the News Search as RSS feature that Google and Yahoo! provides. The Yahoo! server is returning 999 error and we’re going to try and figure out why that’s so.

    – Good point about the banner size

    – Do you know of a server API that would allow us to post to Digg? There is an API, but posting isn’t a feature it seems to offer.

    – Once again, we’re leveraging the services I mentioned above so the best way to get a refined version would be to use two keywords like “Blackberry RIM”

    P.S. I am the UI design team and I’m hungry!

  2. Chris Balavessov on

    David,

    Thanks for the tip on using keywords, I just gave it a try and it works quite nicely.

    I haven’t heard of a way to post on Digg this way either, but I guess applications like the BlackBerry reader would be a good reason for the Digg folks to open up a little more.

    Congratulations on a job very well-done again! Darn, did I just promise a free lunch AND post it in writing? Ts ts, I guess I still have a lot to learn about running a startup on a frugal budget 🙂

    Well, if you end up coming up to Vancouver, BC or the BlackBerry dev conference in Santa Clara, CA next month, give me a shout chris _at_ kartamobile dot com and I will make good on the promise. Just bring the bag with UI tricks with you, ok 😉


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