Read the News In Style with Times for iPad

If you read RSS feeds, chances are that you have downloaded at least one or two different iOS apps of this type. I’ve tried at least ten of them, and every time I see a review of a new app, I’m inclined to check it out just to see if it does a better job than any of the others. Until very recently, I’ve been using Reeder on both iPhone and iPad, and have been very satisfied with both versions of the app.

What’s changed recently is not my choice of app, but rather my behaviour: I’ve come to question how many short-form articles I’ve been reading – I think my attention span has shrunk! Consequently, I’ve actually stopped reading my RSS feeds this week to see how it feels. I just opened up Google Reader and saw that I have a little over 800 unread items since Monday – that’s a lot of information my brain has not needed to process!

While running this personal experiment, I thought it might be a good time to check out Times from Acrylic Apps. After the jump, I’ll talk you through the app’s features…

First Things First

I’m going to begin by saying the obvious thing, so that it’s out of the way: Times operates by a different model than many other feed readers. Because of Google Reader’s dominance in this field, many of us are interested in finding an app that will work perfectly with Reader. Times is not that app. In a FAQ on the developer’s site, he’s pretty clear that he isn’t planning to add syncing with Google Reader, so if that’s what you’re looking for, just walk on by, there’s nothing to see here.

That’s what I have been after, and that’s why I’ve not so far taken Times very seriously, either in the first few weeks it was available on the iPad, or in the two-and-a-half years it’s been around on the Mac desktop. But my experiment is getting me wondering about whether I actually want to continue to have the added pressure of reading all those hundreds of RSS articles that show up in Google Reader every day, or whether I want to cut back quite drastically, and trim my feeds down to a few well chosen sites, rather than my current very broad range of sources.

Okay, now that I’ve covered what Times for iPad isn’t, let’s turn to what it is.

What It Looks Like

In a word, Times looks gorgeous. It’s excellently designed, with good attention paid to the look and feel of the app. The metaphor is a self-curated newspaper, and Times is designed to look the part:

The Times Interface

The Times Interface

To read an article, you simply tap on the headline or summary, and the main window rolls down to show the full article:

Viewing a Full Article

Viewing a Full Article

Times has a number of similarly elegant animations: tap on ‘View on Web’ at the top-right of the article view, and the article flips over to show its web version; and when you’ve finished reading, tap the rolled-down page at the bottom of the screen, and it unfolds to show the headline view again.

From the reading view, you can also share articles via email, Twitter, or Facebook:

Sharing an Article

Sharing an Article

The third option up in that right corner is to add an article to your “Shelf.” This is a way of saving items to read later – the Shelf is styled as a wooden bookshelf, which contains miniature versions of all the articles you save to it.

Your Feed Shelf

Your Feed Shelf

Now, while this is a useful feature, it also points to another way in which Times for iPad differs from other RSS apps. Many of us have come to rely on services like Instapaper and Read It Later to save articles that we plan to come back to, and many apps now include ways of sending articles across to these services. Times doesn’t have this ability, and many will see this as a serious downfall.

However, the Shelf is designed to serve a very similar purpose, and it’s easy to see that relying on it could make things simpler – for one thing, all your reading would be done within a single app, rather than needing to exit your RSS app and then fire up Instapaper or Read It Later. But of course this leaves out the very attractive features those services offer – their well-designed apps, their focus on the text itself, and their ubiquity Both Instapaper and Read It Later have universal iOS apps, so you can read your saved items on your iPhone on the go, both have online versions, so your items are available anywhere – and both also have easy ways to pipe your reading list over to a Kindle.

Times In Use

You will see across the top of the previous screenshots that I have three pages set up: Science, Technology, and Arts & Entertainment. To add a new page, one simply taps on ‘Edit’ and then on the ‘+’ that appears alongside the list of pages, and enters a page title:

Adding a Page

Adding a Page

Adding new feeds is straightforward: just tap on edit and then on the ‘+’ at the top corner of the column you want it added to, then type in the site address and Times will check for available feeds:

Adding a Feed

Adding a Feed

Once your feed is found and subscribed to, there are a few options available for how it’s displayed. Tap on ‘Settings’ at the top of the feed and there you can control options like the priority given to updating and whether items are displayed inline or in the web view. You can also change a few specifics about how items are displayed:

View Settings

View Settings

And this is where you can enter authentication details for any feeds that require logging in.

The number of columns and how they’re laid out is flexible so you can add, remove (just tap on the gear symbol at the head of the column when you’re in edit mode), shrink or widen columns at will.

Some Final Thoughts

Acrylic Apps are promising that Times 2 for Mac will be able to sync feeds between your desktop and Times for iPad. As things stand, if you want to read the same feeds on both machines, you need to add them to both versions independently and, in the case of the iPad version, manually, feed-by-feed. Not being able to import a bunch of feeds in one go is likely to put off some people right away – it’s certainly one of the reasons that I’ve not spent more time using Times for iPad before now. Even the ability to do a one-off import from Google Reader or any other app or service that could export your feeds to OPML would make Times more useful and easier to get started with.

Where Times for iPad really stands out is in its fine design – it’s elegant and easy to use. If I were 100% committed to Google Reader and my long list of feeds, I don’t think this would be enough to tempt me away, though. But, given my current experiment with reducing RSS input, I’m planning to stick with Times for now: using it is certainly a very pleasant experience, and it has all the features it needs to be a more-than-capable and extremely attractive feed reader.


Summary

Turn your favorite RSS feeds into your own personalized newspaper, and make scanning through the news quicker and more enjoyable than ever before.

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