SAN FRANCISCO Silicon Valley may believe that mobile devices represent the future of information technology, but they've yet to come up with a slick and comprehensive way to read and process news.
A growing group of technology entrepreneurs hopes to change that.
This week, Wavii, a start-up founded by a former Microsoft Corp employee, Adrian Aoun, unveiled a free iPhone app that filters news stories from around the world, crunches them through a natural language processing algorithm and presents them in five- or six-word summaries.
Over the past two years in Seattle, Aoun's team of two dozen machine-learning experts secretly developed code that boils down a news story into a basic subject-verb-object format, and draws connections between disparate news stories.
"Our edge has always been the technology," Aoun said.
Wavii has been online for several months, and Aoun has noticed that readers spend nine times longer browsing news headlines in his rudimentary prototype smartphone app than on his desktop website.
Wavii's app lets a user slice and dice a search into something as specific as "employment change in the technology sector," Aoun said.
Aoun's app pits his company against the likes of Summly, a mobile news reader headed by Nick D'Aloisio, a 17-year-old who is being backed by Li Ka-Shing, the Hong Kong billionaire; Yoko Ono, the widow of Beatle John Lennon; and a host of more traditional Silicon Valley investors.
"I use a lot of news aggregators, I use Facebook, I use Twitter" to find news articles, D'Aloisio told Reuters last month, when he launched Summly. Still, the actual article "is hard to consume. It took effort to read."
Summly, also free, features a gauzy, design-rich interface in the iPhone version of the app that summarizes stories with several-paragraph-long blurbs that fit on one iPhone screen.
Hailed in the UK as a "boy genius," D'Aloisio has been featured in Forbes Magazine and on the BBC and moves almost as quickly as he speaks, trotting around the world with a pair of orange headphones around his neck. He came up with the idea for the app when he felt he didn't have time to consume long-form news articles while on the move.
"The way it's shown on the phone, it's daunting," he said. "It's 10 pages I have to flip through. Who's actually sitting there on their iPhone really wanting to read an in-depth 1,500-word article?"
Other app-makers have left alone news copy but have tinkered with how stories are laid out. One example is Flipboard, a tablet app that spreads stories like a magazine across a tablet screen.
Aoun said the market for mobile news reader apps has grown more competitive in recent years, but few of them have truly caught on with consumers.
"We're getting close to figuring out the formula," he said.
(Reporting by Gerry Shih; Editing by Leslie Adler)