In the news app business, what do you do when Apple News has such a big presence on iOS, and Google News is big on Android and seemingly everywhere else? Even if you have deep pockets like Microsoft, which relaunched a news aggregator app of its own a few months ago, the answer may lie in using AI to leapfrog the capabilities of us humans when it comes to selecting and personalizing content.
At least, that's the pitch for Microsoft's second news app, called Hummingbird and freshly launched in the US for Android devices. Whereas the company's regular Microsoft News app (download on iOS or Android) uses people to curate different sections, Hummingbird flexes algorithms that deliver stories into a single feed.
Like Google News, each story in Hummingbird's feed has a three-dot menu that you can tap for more options. You can dislike the story to help the AI's automatic curation, tell it that you don't want to see articles from that source at all, save the piece to read later or share it via another app on your phone or tablet.
When you first open Hummingbird, you are invited to log into your Microsoft or LinkedIn account (Microsoft purchased the business-focused social network in 2016), which lets you sync your "Bing feeds, search history and favorites across devices." This appears to be generalized terminology, as there's nothing in the Hummingbird app labeled as a Bing feed, and there isn't a function to tag something as a "favorite." Either way, signing in is completely optional, if you're a privacy-minded user.
However, Microsoft's Bing search engine is definitely a big part of the app. Tap the Search button at the bottom of the screen, and then tap the text entry box at the top. When you start typing, Hummingbird will prioritize its news categories, but if it doesn't find an exact match as you type, you're sent to Bing within the news app. Tap the "X" in the upper left to go back to the feed.
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During our testing, Hummingbird's feed felt inconsistent, despite a narrowly targeted selection of categories. In the midst of the tech news we'd selected, there were also stories about the baseball player Caleb Howard, a fire at a restaurant, and an award-winning egg salad sandwich.
Since you can't navigate to specific sections like in the regular Microsoft News app, these topical speed bumps proved difficult to avoid. Disliking stories that didn't match our interest also didn't appear to improve the feed when we refreshed it by swiping down from the top of the screen. Despite explicitly choosing technology-oriented topics, we continued to see stories about sports, food, and politics.
One other advantage of the Microsoft News app: a dark mode. This time of year in the northern hemisphere, where 88 percent of the world's population lives, the long nights favor apps that don't produce potentially harsh light. However, Hummingbird does at least let you wipe all of your personalization data in the app's settings -- not just on the device, but all the associated bits in the cloud.
- On the heels of relaunching the Microsoft News app, the company has launched Hummingbird, a second news app that uses AI instead of people to populate your news feed.
- However, the AI seemed to have trouble sticking to the user-selected topics during our testing, and the app lacks a dark mode.
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