How good is Flipboard competitor Zite?

Since Flipboard was named Apple’s favorite iPad app of 2010, lots of startups come along that try to get in on its turf. Tonight one, named Zite, is getting lots of press coverage.

So, how good is it?

Well, for +me+ it actually is better than Flipboard in one sizeable way: it built me a table of contents of different sections automatically after I added my Twitter and Google Reader accounts into it. The sections read: Gadgets, Mac, Programming, Social Media, Technology, Palm, Python, which match the major interests of many of the 32,000 people I’m following on Twitter and the hundreds of feeds I’m following on Google Reader.

It built an attractive magazine and the articles it picked seemed pretty good. I’ve been reading the press on it and it supposedly learns about you as you read and brings you even better content after you use it. In the hour or so that I used it I didn’t see this happening, but that’s probably because it started out with a very good dataset to start with.

OK, that’s what’s good about it compared to Flipboard, but now there’s some massive things it doesn’t do as well.

First, it assumes you are a heavy Twitter or Google Reader user. What if you’re not? My dad, for instance, just joined Twitter. His experience starting out won’t be like mine. In this way Flipboard is a far better designed product because it has ready-made sections that he can choose from without even adding any of his social networks into the product. Things about Fashion, Movies, Sports, and hundreds of other content choices.

That’s a +huge+ difference. Remember, Flipboard has already been featured on Oprah. Most of those users aren’t very heavy users of social networks and if you don’t present them with ready-made curated content they will be lost and won’t figure out what to do.

But there is one other interesting difference too: Flipboard’s fit and finish is FAR superior to Zite’s.

Flipboard caches web pages in the background before you click on them, so when you click they pop up much faster than they did on Zite. It also showed me the original tweet above the article, which I didn’t see with Zite.

Finally, there are tons of little things in Flipboard that just are better done than in Zite. Spin the iPad in both and you’ll see Flipboard actually has very subtle animations that move the page around as it switches between horizontal and vertical. Zite’s just switches without the animation. Now geeks amongst you might say “who cares?” But to me those small fit and finish details show me the care that’s gone into making Flipboard, which is why Apple picked it as its favorite.

Sorry, Zite, not there yet, but nice try!

UPDATE: The Zite app is currently having trouble with scaling up. People are reporting to me on Twitter that the app won’t start and the servers are too busy. This happened on the first few days with Flipboard, too, but Flipboard doesn’t have these scaling problems anymore and Zite app should have been designed with those scaling problems in consideration. Plus it’s 3 a.m. and the San Francisco crowd is sleeping as we’re seeing these problems. If you can’t scale while San Francisco sleeps you haven’t really done a good job there.