Introducing proximity alerts and much more in the new Breaking News iOS app

We’re excited to launch a powerful new feature that’s a first for a mobile app: when a big story breaks near your physical location, we’ll send you a push alert with the news. We call it a “proximity alert,” and it’s now live in the Breaking News iOS app (Android coming soon.)

Proximity alerts are reserved for major stories that have a high likelihood of impacting you directly, or at the very least, that people around you are wondering what just happened. We’ve tested it with significant earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfire evacuations, train derailments, plane crashes, school shootings and public health warnings.

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(Photo by Adnan Islam)

For example, we tested it with the East Harlem building collapse in March, which spewed a big column of smoke over Manhattan and shut down a key transportation line. Moments after we verified the first reports on Twitter, we sent a push notification to our beta testers in New York City well before any other national news organization reported the news.

As with all of Breaking News’ alerts, our experienced editors are monitoring social media and vetting each story in real time. Now they’re also deciding which geography — from as narrow as a neighborhood to as wide as a country — that will be receiving a proximity alert.

It works internationally, too, and it will follow you as you travel — an invaluable resource even if you don’t use the app for anything else.

Engaging new design

We listened to Breaking News users and added a long list of design enhancements including larger inline photos and videos, infinite scroll, improved map view and easy “tab” navigation: 

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Our popular “Whoa” section — which highlights the stories, photos and video that are deemed the most surprising by our users in real time — has been given a tab of its own.  

We’ve also streamlined the iPad design, dedicating the entire portrait view to the stream, so you can read stories in a full-screen web view. Flipping the tablet to landscape view will reveal real-time data extras, just for fun.

What’s in your watchlist?

We’re also introducing a watchlist, which is an easy way to discover when news breaks in your favorite interests.  Just add topics to your watchlist by tapping the watchlist icon or searching for more.  Here’s my watchlist on the left:

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I’m watching the 2014 US elections and Edward Snowden, two big stories that interest me.  I’ve added tech and media because I work in those two industries. NBC is the company that owns Breaking News. Seattle is where I live, and Ferndale, CA is my hometown.

Whenever there’s a significant new development in any of these topics, it will be highlighted in my Breaking News stream (above right). I can also choose to get push notifications for up to 10 watchlist topics at a time (expanded from 5 after many requests). In my case, I receive push alerts with breaking updates about media, Seattle and NBC.

If you’ve been away for awhile, tap “all watched topics” to catch up on recent updates for all of your watchlist topics.

Beyond your own interests, you can also use your watchlist to gain an edge at work. For example, PR professionals and lawyers can watch their major clients so they can react quickly when news breaks. Lobbyists and activists can track breaking political news in key topics like cybersecurity, LGBT rights and minimum wage.

With over 38,000 topics and counting, Breaking News is a powerful real-time discovery tool. You can use Google Alerts to see every… single… time someone mentions a topic in a story. Or Radian6 to see the flood of social mentions. But Breaking News is the only service that tells you immediately when significant news breaks about a topic, guided by editors you can trust.

Making breaking news matter again

With so many news organizations screaming for your attention, it seems like red “breaking news” banners are a permanent fixture on TV sets and pesky push alerts are the new normal. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We even made a video about it:

Here at Breaking News, we’re working hard to make breaking news matter again by listening to you. From your favorite topics to proximity alerts, we’re getting better at anticipating the breaking news that’s uniquely important to you instead of spamming you with alerts. We give you just the facts you need, faster than any other news app.

Take back your attention and give us a try. We’d love to hear what you think.

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