capsule review

Summly for iPhone

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Summly

Summly Limited’s Summly is the much-hyped productivity app created by child prodigy developer Nick D’Aloisio. The app aims to make reading and searching the Web easier by creating concise summaries of the information on a particular page—kind of like CliffNotes for everything on the Internet. But while Summly is a promising idea, it fails in execution.

Open the app, and you are immediately prompted to integrate Summly with your iOS device’s Safari browser by installing the Summly bookmark. Installing the bookmark allows you to get summaries from any page you open while browsing in Safari. When on a page, simply tap the bookmark, and the Summly app launches, providing you with a bulleted summary of the article’s contents.

But here’s where I ran into my first major problem with the app—the summaries are rarely accurate or informative. I generated summaries of several dozen articles written in a variety of formats from different websites. Only a couple of them were able to provide information that accurately summarized the article. And even in those cases, some of the information provided was irrelevant and unnecessary.

The Sum of Its Parts: Summly's summary for Wikipedia's World War II entry isn't much of a summary.

For example, I tried to use the Summly tool on a New York Times article about education in Idaho. Not only did the bullet points fail to summarize the article in a way that made sense, one bullet point was the caption for the photo that ran with the article. And that seems to be the biggest flaw of Summly—it fails to distinguish what information is relevant and what isn’t. Even the recent 1.0.2 update hasn’t helped matters much: The good summaries seemed marginally better, but the incomplete summaries showed little improvement.

Summarizing longer articles proved even more fruitless. When I tried, I would get an error message saying that “Summly could not create a summary of the webpage you entered since its content is already in a concise form of 500 characters or less.” And to be fair, Summly’s App Store page notes that the app “works best with news articles and search results that are written in an informative style, as opposed to a narrative.” Even with short newswire stories, however, I found Summly’s performance inconsistent at best.

And that seemingly defeats the purpose of an app that’s designed to help you browse large amounts of information faster. If the summaries only seem to work well with very short, easy-to-read articles, why do I need an app to help me pull out information that’s already in an easily digestible format?

Summly’s other claim to fame is as a search tool that performs Web searches from within the app. You enter a search term, and Summly generates a list of results. When you select a result, you get a summary of the information on the page, which presumably speeds up your searches.

But I found this feature worked about as well as the rest of the app. Results of my searches were often irrelevant and sometimes couldn't be summarized at all. When the searches did turn up relevant results, the provided summaries were only occasionally helpful. Most of the time, I had to click through and read the whole article, which, again, seems to defeat the purpose of the app as a time saver.

The potential value of Summly’s innovative approach to searching and browsing is not lost on me. I appreciate what the app is trying to do, and with a little work, Summly could be a successful productivity app. But as it stands now, Summly simply doesn’t work that well.

[Karissa Bell is a Macworld editorial intern.]

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Summly

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