Reeder for iPad: The Last RSS Reader You’ll Ever Need

Reeder for iPhone hit the App Store in September of 2009. Although it initially lacked some key features, it quickly became popular and is now one of the best RSS readers for the iPhone. Since the iPad’s release, many Reeder users have been waiting with bated breath for an iPad version. They’re finally in luck; the developer submitted Reeder for iPad last week, and it should be available soon.

For those not familiar with Reeder, it’s an RSS reader that syncs with your Google Reader account. Since it’s obviously not the first app of its kind on the iPad—NetNewsWire is the big-name competition—I’m going to talk a little bit first about what separates Reeder from all the apps already in the App Store.

The Problem

Here’s the trick about the iPad: it’s not a computer. It’s something new. If you’ve used an iPad, that probably seems obvious. The best applications—Instapaper, Kindle, Things, even the built-in Calendar app—are usually the ones that effectively meld some traditional way of doing a thing (a newspaper, a book, a notepad, and a desk calendar respectively) with the touch-and-keyboard model that makes the iPad so entirely new.

Applications that use a computer-like interface (think Netflix and Dropbox) may be perfectly usable, but aren’t fun to use the same way the best apps are.

This is a problem throughout the app store; even great Mac and iPhone developers are still trying to figure out how to make the best of the iPad’s unique advantages. The RSS reader field has been a particular example of this confusion: on the one hand, there are apps like The Early Edition that take on the format of a newspaper – right down to the blackletter header.

On the other hand, there are apps like the well-known NetNewsWire that preserve the desktop source list/document metaphor and force you to drill down through a list of items in order to find and read the one you want. Neither kind of application is bad, but each makes a sacrifice.

The Early Edition’s newspaper conceit makes it fun to use and attractive to look at, but since the iPad isn’t actually newspaper-sized, it costs valuable screen real estate and makes reading your feeds inefficient. NetNewsWire is relatively efficient and is certainly familiar to users of the desktop app, which is certainly a valuable trait. But it would be hard to call ‘fun’.

Further, each of these applications shows black text on a white background—something we’re programmed to accept on a computer screen, but not from a real book or newspaper (or even from Kindle for iPad). The reduced (but still significant) contrast between page and type is one of the pleasures of reading printed materials.

The Solution

Reeder for iPad has answers to all of these problems. It avoids the newspaper metaphor, but its home screen shows you a labeled pile of unread pages for each folder in your Google Reader (as well as individual sheets for feeds that live outside of folders).

Layout View

Layout View

As in the Photos app, you can pinch these piles open to see the individual feeds inside them. One nice feature that becomes apparent at this point is that Reeder uses each site’s webclip icon, if provided, to clearly differentiate the feeds from one another. Unfortunately, the majority of websites don’t (yet) provide a webclip icon (but at least your Apple-related feeds will look pretty).

Pinch to Show Feeds

Pinch to Show Feeds

There are three possible views at the top level: starred, unread, and no filter. They work exactly as you expect, although I’d add a caveat that your shared feeds turn up in the ‘no filter’ view; if you haven’t shared anything in a while, it can be disconcerting to see very old shared items appear along with the latest updates from your favourite blogs.

Depending on your reading style, you can then either open all items in the given view—mostly analogous to All Items in Google Reader—or pick through by folder or feed. Either way, you’re presented with a list of feed items on the left (which can be sorted by feed or by chronological order) and the text of the currently selected item on the right.

Pull Down for Next Article

Pull Down for Next Article

But wait—didn’t I say that Reeder had an answer to the source list/document metaphor? I did indeed. This is no ordinary source list/document view. In addition to the pager that appears in easy thumb reach on the left-side menu bar to let you move easily between articles, you can pull up or down on an article to load the article that precedes or follows it.

If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because the feature was inspired by Twitter (née Tweetie) for iPhone’s ‘pull down to refresh’ feature.

Similarly, in vertical orientation (where the article takes over the full screen) you can pull the article to the right to get a clear look at the other articles in the current list. You can either hold it there with one finger or drop it there to be swiped back when you’re done looking. You can toggle the read or starred status of any article in the list while you have the article to one side this way.

Slide to Show Feeds

Slide to Show Feeds

You can also pull right on an item in the feed list to toggle its read status or pull left to toggle its starred status. If you get fed up with a given feed or folder, you can either ‘Mark all as read’, which thoughtfully sends you back to the previous view, or pinch in on the source list, which sends you back to the previous view without marking anything as read.

The end result of all these gestures and features is that Reeder feels much more like it was built for the iPad than apps like NetNewsWire do—for the very good reason that it was.

Starring an Item

Starring an Item

Tapping the title of a particular article takes you to the full version of that article in a web view. From either the Reeder view or the full version of an article, you can bring up a services panel that offers you a number of actions.

This menu is very customizable—you can remove the items you don’t want—but by default includes actions for sending an article to Delicious, Pinboard, Instapaper, Read It Later, or Twitter, opening it in Safari, copying or mailing the link to the article, emailing the article itself, applying either the Google or Instapaper Mobilizer (to make it more readable on a small screen and remove distractions like ads), and attaching a note in Google Reader.

In other words, if it’s something you might want to do with an article while working on an iPad, you probably have the option to do it.

Services Panel

Services Panel

I’ve customised my service panel to show just the services I use; it has many more options available by default.

I mentioned earlier that items you’ve shared on Google Reader will be downloaded and appear in the ‘no filters’ view. While that’s true by default, there’s an option to turn off or limit the syncing of starred, shared, and noted items. If all you want to see is new unread feeds, that’s entirely possible.

You can also control how long you want to keep read items cached; if you feel like turning your iPad into an archive of all your previously read articles (or keep nothing that you’ve already read), you can do that, too.

A final word on Reeder’s interface: the developer decided to use a freckled, newsprint-like image as the article background (instead of leaving the background a simple white as other RSS apps do). I find the improvement in readability and reduction in eyestrain to be drastic. If you dislike reading black text on an otherwise white screen, you owe it to yourself to check out Reeder for this alone.

The Promise

Fear not: there’s plenty of room for new features and improvements in Reeder for iPad 2.0. The current version doesn’t allow you to add, move, or remove feeds or folders; in fact, managing your feeds at all is something you’ll still need a computer for.

Additionally, it would be nice to see the ability to share articles on Tumblr, WordPress, and other blogging platforms. I’m content with these features not being present in a first release, though, because they would have added an order of magnitude of complexity and development time to an application that’s already brilliantly suited for its intended purpose.

I really can’t find much in Reeder to complain about.

Conclusions

Reeder makes reading your feeds fun. I’ve been testing it for a week now, and the enjoyment I take in physically manipulating my feeds rather than simply tapping them has not grown one iota less. I’ve actually found myself giving up Google Reader on my Mac entirely in favour of using Reeder for iPad.

It’s flatly better than any iPad RSS reader currently on the market. The only potential competition I know of, Times for iPad, is still in private beta. From what I’ve been able to piece together, Times for iPad will sync with Times 2 for Mac (but not Google Reader) and, unsurprisingly, be attractive and newspaper-like in its appearance.

Times for Mac is a pleasure to use, and I suspect that will hold even more true with Times for iPad.Unfortunately, it may be a while before Acrylic is ready to release it. Reeder, on the other hand, will be available as soon as Apple approves it.

Reeder for iPad will be $4.99 on the App Store, which is quite frankly an unbelievable bargain; NetNewsWire, which is less capable, less attractive, and less fun to use, is $9.99 (and will go up to $14.99 on June 8th). If you’ve been missing a great RSS app for your iPad, treat yourself to Reeder.


Summary

Coming soon to the iPad, Reeder creates a wonderfully natural experience for reading your RSS feeds. Reeder makes reading your feeds fun, and you may find yourself ditching your Mac RSS reader altogether!

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