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Quartz Brief – bite-sized news updates from a robot

Developer: Quartz
Price: Free
Size: 47.5 MB
Version: 2.8.1
Platform: iPhone & iPad

Quartz Brief

We reviewed this app when it first launched two years ago, but the service has matured a little since then so it’s time to take a second look.

Though it sounds a bit like a pair of crystalline underpants, Quartz Brief nothing of the sort. It’s actually a rather affable news robot, tasked with delivering brief SMS-style messages to outline the day’s top stories. It’s intended to help busy – or lazy! – individuals stay up to date with minimal effort. But is the world finally ready for chat-based news updates?

Tap the emojis to read more about a story

Quartz is dressed up like a generic messaging app, with snappy news updates appearing in familiar chat bubbles. There are plenty of GIFs and emojis to remind you that we’re living squarely in the future; the app is keen to remind you that it’s a long way from those stuffy old newspapers people used to read last century.

The friendly Quartz robot (actually a team of behind-the-scenes writers) keeps you updated with headline-style news summaries every time you check in on it. After each story’s tease, you’re offered a choice of replies – generally, a “tell me more” and a “no thanks.” It’s a neat gimmick, and does feel vaguely like chatting with a friend. It’s easy to skip over stuff you’re not interested in, but sadly the app doesn’t learn your preferences and will surface the same stories to everyone. Quartz has all the stylings of a machine learning robot, but its smarts could go a little deeper.

A news app is only as strong as its content, and you may be reassured to hear that the Quartz team was founded by editors from publications including the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Bloomberg, and The New York Times. Their experienced team of journalists does an excellent job of distilling long news articles into three or four concise paragraphs, and if a story piques your interest, you can click through to the source article for a longer read.

The app can link you through to the full articles online

The content served up in the app is pleasingly varied, covering everything from the global economy to arts and culture. It makes an effort to pick out a few light-hearted pieces each day to serve up alongside more serious business news, and the result is that you can feel well-informed about the big stories and pick up some great conversation starters in just five or ten minutes a day.

One of the more recent additions to the app is its library of augmented reality objects using Apple’s ARKit. Certain stories will offer up 3D models of relevant objects for inspection through your device’s camera lens – recent objects include everything from the Tesla Model 3 to the designs for a new housing facility in London. Exploring these in three dimensions is really cool.

Examining a virtual lunar rover on a real-world desk

You can open the app and grab your daily updates at any time, but there’s also an intelligent opt-in notification system at play, giving you control over how often you want to be bothered with alerts. With notifications on it does feel a little like being sent personal news updates from a friend. The customization here is great, and the app even offers a “Trump snooze” which will hide any stories about the US President for the next 24 hours. No matter what your political persuasion, sometimes a complete break from politics is welcome, and this switch allows you to do so without ignoring the news entirely.

Stock-savvy poets may enjoy the daily markets haiku

The app does run out of stories fairly quickly – fine for the bite-size sessions the app is intended for, but those hungry for current affairs won’t be sated by the meager offerings here. If you’re a fan of the Quartz editorial style (“creative and intelligent journalism with a broad worldview”), you can read their full stories in the stock iOS News app – or on the website, which is remarkably well optimized for mobile.

For the average person, though, these bite-sized chats are a fun an informative way to digest the news.