A newsstand in your pocket

John Gushue
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The economy may be collapsing upon itself, but the business in smartphones seems to be steaming away. In fact, the numbers on the trade continue to be jaw-dropping.
Get this: Apple shipped almost 6.9 million 3G phones in the third quarter of this year, leapfrogging ahead of do-or-die competitor RiM, the folks behind the BlackBerry. Even so, Apple lags far behind global market leader Nokia, which shipped more than 15 million units in the same three-month period.
That's a lot of smartphone, and the expectation is that's just the start of smart technology, which aims to deliver a platter of content - news, weather, games, e-mail, services and (if you have the stomach) stock quotes, among others - to the palm of your hand.
One issue, though, is still resolving itself: the actual content. Most web providers still figure the typical reader is sitting at a desk, not on the move with a wee screen and questionable connectivity.
An iPhone or a BlackBerry can browse websites, sure enough, but be prepared for an uncomfortable feeling, particularly if you're used to blazing speeds at home or the office. Mobile pages often load slowly, and time-outs are common.
It all feels so, well, dial-up. (And, depending on the data package you bought, the waiting game can as expensive as it is frustrating).
Some sites, though, are adapting, and preparing mobile-ready, one-button alternatives that make for speedy loading and quick reading. This week, we're looking at some news sources that have already made some steps to expedite your news delivery.
My preference is for sites that offer downloads for one-step access to the latest headlines. Hitting an icon saves time for loading a browser and searching bookmarks, and all of the ones I've picked so far load far more quickly than the browser-based alternative.
Still, all this, to be fair, is new ground. BlackBerry, for instance, only released in late October its first partnerships for push delivery of news alerts through a feature it calls web signals.

New York Times
The NYT leads the way in making user-friendly online applications, and its mobile settings are as easy as pie. Like others, the site should automatically offer you the ability to download an app to your phone when you log on the first time. Once you've downloaded the software, an icon on your screen offers a gateway. In the Times' case, it's a highlights package that's fairly comprehensive. Poke around and you'll find directories to a richer array well beyond the front page.

CNN's button loads instantly, with a streamed-down director. You can drill into separate sections, but the top-stories format covers the major stories of the day. (A complaint? CNN doesn't refresh its top stories list that often, particularly in secondary sections, where a headline can linger for a few days.)

CBC News to Go
As a point of disclosure, I edit the news on CBC's regional site here as a day job, although I'm not involved in mobile services. Look for the download patch for one-touch service. If you're (ahem) looking for regional news, look for the My Region button.

Ever-competitive, Time and Newsweek have both set up one-touch mobile access. Their screens feature a mix of news, columns, bright features … a mini-magazine, in other words. Time also offers a stand-alone download for its ongoing political feature, The Page, while Newsweek offers a separate Politics button, which may not be as urgent now that the U.S. presidential race is over, but is still updated continually.

After downloading this button, you'll get a menu from National Public Radio. It's not a daily check for me, but it's worth browsing for international and arts coverage.

I've picked up a few other one-touch services lately (CBS News, Washington Post), but I would have thought there would be more to sample.
After all, so many news services have picked up their game and streamlined their web services for mobile browsing. The problem is that you have to actually launch a browser first, then go to your bookmarks. Quality is not predictable. The Globe and Mail (www.globeandmail.com) updates regularly, for instance; the BBC (www.bbc.co.uk), though, is disappointing, offering just a teensy fraction of what you can find at your desktop. The Economist (www.economist.com) offers what looks like a cool mobile service, but my curiosity wasn't up to the monthly subscription fee.
That's just the start. Indeed, I think we're at the start of a much broader trend, where content providers will be thinking in multiple ways of keeping you - the user - happy, whether at your desktop, your portable laptop or your phone.
Eyeballs, after all, are eyeballs. (The challenge is getting those eyeballs on to something, like ads, that will pay the bills.)
In the meantime … know of a site with a good mobile service? I'd love to hear about it.

John Gushue is a news writer for CBCNews.ca in St. John's. E-mail: surf@thetelegram.com. Read past Surf's Up columns and daily updates at his blog: johngushue.typepad.com.

Organizations: Apple, New York Times, CBC News Newsweek National Public Radio CBS News Washington Post Globe and Mail BBC

Geographic location: U.S., St. John's

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