Sunstroke: Bringing Fever to the App Store

Recent changes to Google’s privacy policy have spurred many thoughts of abandoning ship in search of Google alternatives. While leaving Google altogether is probably an overreaction, it’s worth taking inventory of just how much or your data travels through the Google pipeline. Yes, Google services have no monetary cost, but there is a privacy cost involved. Soapbox aside, it’s also every geek’s job to tinker.

Google search alternatives such as DuckDuckGo are growing in popularity, but users of services such as Google Reader have few other choices. Shaun Inman’s Fever is a self-hosted feed reader that offers several improvements over Google Reader, but unfortunately, Fever’s mobile experience is limited to web clips. Sunstroke is the first native iPhone application built for Fever, and today we’ll see if this app can maintain Fever’s personality while offering all of the features that make it a superior alternative to Google Reader.

Feed A Fever

Fever is Shaun Inman’s self-hosted alternative to Google Reader. Some may know Shaun from his Mint analytics program, or The Last Rocket, his 8-bit iOS platformer. Fever offers some notable improvements over the Google Reader experience, including story aggregation and a cleaner user experience.

It’s important to note that Sunstroke is solely a reader for the self-hosted Fever service and requires a Fever installation. Self-hosted means that a user must install Fever on his/her own server. A Fever license can be purchased for $30 and interested readers should visit the official Fever site for more information.

Design

Sunstroke takes inspiration from Fever’s fiery design and tweaks it to create a beautiful native experience on the iPhone. The Sunstroke icon sears the iPhone’s screen and makes a strong first impression. Fortunately, the slick icon is only the first in a series of awesome design choices.

The developer dumps the drab iOS login screen in favor of a custom creation.

The developer dumps the drab iOS login screen in favor of a custom creation.

The app’s simple design combines with subtle animations to form an experience that is both responsive and polished. An example of this impeccable attention to detail occurs when enabling all of the Sunstroke sharing services. Once the number of services passes a certain point the app reformats the action menu, presenting a compressed menu that makes it easier to navigate through the slew of services. It’s the small touches in Sunstroke that make it such a joy to use.

The share action menu even displays the link, just in case.

The share action menu even displays the link, just in case.

Functionality

Sunstroke syncs to an existing Fever installation with a simple tap, or it can be set to auto sync. There’s a difference between syncing and refreshing in that syncing only grabs the feed information from the user’s server, while refreshing actually tells the server to check for new articles. To sum it up, Sunstroke will sync but won’t actually tell the server to check for new articles. This is more of a Fever limitation, but savvy users can create a Cron rule to tell their server to refresh automatically or leave Fever opened on their desktop browser.

The home screen in Sunstroke presents the four basic views: Hot Links, Kindling, Saved, and Sparks. Unlike Google Reader, Fever divides feeds between Sparks and Kindling. Sparks contain the high-volume feeds that don’t need to be read to completion, while Kindling houses the more important must-reads.

The red dot next to the list name indicates that the list has unread articles. This dot can be changed to an unread count in the app's settings menu.

The red dot next to the list name indicates that the list has unread articles. This dot can be changed to an unread count in the app's settings menu.

Tap on the list title to view the complete list or tap the circled arrows to access the feed view.

The Sparks and Kindling lists feed Hot Links, where articles on the same subject are grouped and subjects are given a temperature based on the level of discussion. This comes in handy with events such as new product releases, where many articles repeat the same information and the reader may want a simple snapshot of the event.

Set the time for the Hot Links window by tapping on the white text in the lower menubar.

Set the time for the Hot Links window by tapping on the white text in the lower menubar.

Reading Experience

Fever is perfect for readers who deal with a high number of feeds, but Sunstroke takes this a step further with useful gestures and a well-design menubar that offers quick access to useful features and sharing. The list view menu contains a read/unread toggle that allows the user to easily access read articles, and lists can be sorted by feed name or date. There’s also a button for marking all feeds in a list as read.

Tap the feed icon to switch between date and feed view.

Tap the feed icon to switch between date and feed view.

Sunstroke’s article view removes the fluff and presents the reader with a beautiful version of an article’s text. The article heading and metadata are contained in a grey box that can be tapped to access the original article. Users can switch between articles by tapping the up/down arrows or by scrolling to the top or bottom of the article. Articles can be saved for later by tapping the infinity loop.

Sunstroke provides an elegant mobilized view and gestures that make it a snap to switch to the next article.

Sunstroke provides an elegant mobilized view and gestures that make it a snap to switch to the next article.

Swipe to the right on an article to mark read/unread or to the left for saved/unsaved.

Fever’s sharing features require a bit of finesse to setup, and the overall sharing experience is unpolished. Sunstroke simplifies the experience and offers the standard sharing features as well as some notable additions. Sunstroke users merely need to log into their favorite accounts to share, and users aren’t forced to deal with the sharing urls present in the Fever web client.

Sunstroke supports the most common sharing options, as well as experimental sharing to Sparrow.

Sunstroke supports the most common sharing options, as well as experimental sharing to Sparrow.

Conclusion

Sunstroke is the best way to access Fever on an iPhone, but not just because it’s the only alternative to the Fever web clip. The developers stick with the Fever theme but make some awesome design choices that improve the overall usability of the service. Sunstroke makes sharing easier and builds a better reading experience while making it possible to blaze through article backlogs without becoming bogged down. This app is a no-brainer for anyone looking for a better Fever experience on their iPhone.


Summary

Sunstroke is the first native iPhone application built for Shaun Inman's Fever. The app syncs with an existing Fever installation and gives access to all of Fever's useful features.

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