Minimalism Makes Strides in a Bell and Whistles World


With today’s mobile apps becoming more flashy and sophisticated, one news-app out of Japan is looking to compete using a very simplistic design. SmartNews, created by Ken Suzuki and Kaisei Hamamoto, was launched in 2010 and with 5 million downloads and counting has quickly become the second-most used news app in Japan. The mobile program does not require an internet connection and gives users a “stripped-down” version of today’s more flashy news apps like Yahoo News.

The company got its start when co-founder Ken Suzuki was riding the subway in Japan. He noticed everyone around him in the packed station was playing games on their smartphone, mainly because any other functions performed on their mobile devices (such as reading the news) required an internet connection that was unavailable underground. Suzuki wanted to convince people to read the news while on their commute instead of crushing bits of candy or swiping at birds. Thus, with the help of internet-scraping technology, the minimalistic SmartNews was born.

The two main competitive advantages that SmartNews has going for it are the ability to use it with no internet connection, and its read-only SmartView function. Unlike other news apps that function poorly with spotty internet connection, SmartNews offers speedy, seamless design and performance. The app can be set to refresh news stories up to 3 times a day, preventing it from draining a user’s battery life. The app can be used in both Web mode and SmartView mode, both of which have gone over well with users. Web mode has minimal features such as banner ads that help generate revenue, but users can easily flip to the stripped down, read-only SmartView.

Other than not needing an internet connection, what makes SmartNews different from other news apps is the fact that it does not provide content and stories tailored to each user. While some critics cite this as a downfall, the founders use this feature as an advantage. To Suzuki and Hamamoto, news should be for everyone, with both adults and children being able to use it easily. Instead of using software that generates tailored content and stories, the algorithm used by SmartNews sorts through content from across the web, flagging whatever seems important.

It seems as though this combination of beautiful performance without internet and distraction-free reading has gone over extremely well with users. An average of 1.5 million users read about 10 articles a day, spending approximately 4.5 hours on the app every month. SmartNews’ launch in the U.S. is expected to do well, despite heavier competition from the States than was previously experienced in Japan. News startups in the U.S. harp on their flashy features that sometimes push themselves onto users. However, Suzuki and Hamomoto believe that it is the fact that SmartNews does not have all those bells and whistles that will appeal to news junkies and give them the stories they need to know.


Contributed by: Connor Robertson