Google on Thursday unveiled a new “social” news application for the iPad and Android tablets that draws obvious comparisons to popular independent iPad app Flipboard, since both apps automatically reformat websites, social media links and other online content into a cleaner, more elegant, magazine-like display, complete with gorgeously large photos.
There’s a certain irony in the launch, as Google reportedly attempted to purchase Flipboard back in 2010 for an estimated $200 million, but Flipboard declined. Google apparently took the brush-off in stride, following the maxim, “If you can’t get buy them, imitate and beat them.”
Google’s free app, though, has a few things the (also free) Flipboard lacks, chiefly among them, the backing some 150 major online and print publishing companies, compared to Flipboard’s hard-won 60 such agreements, a distinction that Google was only to happy to trumpet in its blog post announcing the new product.
“We’ve worked with more than 150 publishing partners to offer full-length articles from more than 180 editions including CNET, AllThingsD, Forbes, Saveur, PBS, Huffington Post, Fast Company and more,” wrote Google Currents’ Mussie Shore and Sami Shalabi.
Also, a major advantage of Google Currents over Flipboard: Android.
Flipboard, which was first launched for the iPad in July 2010, just released an iPhone version on Wednesday, but has no immediate plans for an Android version, according to Flipboard founder and CEO Mike McCue, who spoke to journalists at the French LeWeb 2011 conference on Wednesday.
Moreover, McCue said that when the company did finally release an Android version, it would likely be not for standard Android tablets, but rather for the severely forked version running on Amazon’s Kindle Fire.
“There aren’t that many Android tablets yet, but that is changing, and the Kindle Fire a good example of that,” McCue said, TabTimes reported, “For Flipboard, we just picked a platform and the iPad has allowed us to build something amazing.”
And given how little time Google wasted in releasing Google Currents after the new Flipboard for iPhone debuted on Wednesday, it’s difficult not to see Google’s move as an attempt to steal Flipboard’s thunder.
But if McCue was rattled by the launch of Google Currents on Thursday, he did his best to disguise it, tweeting that the two products were “To [sic] very different apps. Currents is a news rdr. Flipboard is for browsing social feeds from fb, twitter, instagram, etc.”
A few other things Currents offers over Flipboard: A whole new web-based design platform, allowing anyone (but namely smaller publishers not already among the 150 to have partnered with Google) to reformat their own web content and optimize for tablets and mobile devices, though from what we can tell from briefly experimenting with it, it is basically a glorified RSS reader and YouTube feed mashup.
Not that there’s a problem with that! Indeed, Flipboard itself has been previously characterized as a “glorified RSS reader,” and its still managed to hit 4.5 million downloads on the iPad alone, or 1-in-10 iPads.
In fact, numbers and brand name recognition may be Flipboard’s main assets against the new Google Currents challenger.
Well, that and reach: Google’s initial post on Google Currents has been flooded with complaints from users overseas pointing out that for now at least, the app is only available in the U.S.
Flipboard, by contrast, is gearing up to launch in China after partnering with leading Chinese social media companies Sina Weibo and RenRen. (Google, of course, has an infamously contentious relationship with China.)
We’ve reached out to Flipboard for more on how they plan to remain competitive in the face of Google Currents and other cloned competitors, including Yahoo’s Livestand, AOL’s Editions, CNN’s recently acquired Zite for $25 million, and Alphonos Labs’ Pulse reader, which was briefly removed from the App Store after complaints from the New York Times