I am an RSS addict (used to work with Bloglines, switched for Google Reader). I consume most of my news and articles through RSS. Once I got my hands on an iPhone, it was only natural that I would search for a decent RSS Reader. I got some recommendations and tried several apps. I couldn't try the paid apps, since there are no trial versions, so I had to follow screenshots and reviews.
Google Reader provides an internet application for reading feeds. I use it. My main rant is that it is just too slow, takes too long to navigate, and just consumes too much of my time.
Before I'll give my "shopping list", here's a little background regarding my RSS reading habits.
I have about 200 feeds. Naturally, I never get to most of them. I would classify my feeds in the following categories:
- "Read immediately" feeds: I usually read those every couple of hours. They include mostly monitor feeds to forums. This is an important tool for web marketing: once a question pops up in a forum, I want to answer it first.
- "Read daily" feeds: I read those in the morning. Sometimes in the evening. Includes about 10+ feeds in various areas of interest, plus...
- "Services" feeds: feeds from services I use and need to stay on top of updates.
- "Read when you have time" feeds: I get to those less often, if I really need to take a break from what I'm doing or over evenings/weekends.
- "Weekend" feeds: mostly leisure feeds like cooking, comics, etc.
- "Keep an eye on" feeds: there are many feeds which are not updated that often. They should be out of the way, unless something new comes up.
- "Dinosaurs": the ones I never read anymore but can't be bothered to remove.
During my extensive years of RSS-reading (I started using a feed reader about 6+ years ago), I perfected the ability to quickly skim through articles and quickly understand if I'm interested. The "mark as read" feature is one of the most important tasks of a good reader. It should be done with minimal effort from the user side and be part of the natural flow of reading the feed. I should not be forced to manually "mark as read".
Let's start by laying down some base requirements.
- Sync with Google Reader.
- Very quick. Especially to load.
- Automatic and natural "mark as read" which works as you skim through the feed.
- Load images (resized).
- Work in portrait and landscape.
- Support folders.
- Built-in browser which works in landscape mode.
- Simple navigation - in and out of feeds/folders.
- Very simple "mark as unread" for those article I will want to read from my laptop.
- Remember last position when open.
Nice to Have
- Read it Later integration. I use it, but not that much (it's more like "read it never").
- Customize the UI: allow me to rearrange my feeds or select more important feeds just for iPhone viewing.
- Show me article preview inline: I would like to read it almost as I read it in the full version of Google Reader, but with smaller articles. Giving just the headline is usually not enough. Let me customize that.
- Push notifications (like Boxcar).
- Progressive or conditional sync. I don't want to wait until all my feeds are synced.
Must not Have (or don't care)
- Ads. I want to pay for a decent app.
- Show all the feeds in a given folder together: I don't read all the feeds at the same time.
- Favorite, share, note - it might have those, but I don't use them. I keep the interesting articles as "unread".
- Edit feeds (add, remove, move) - I do that from my laptop.
- Offline mode: I spend most of my time connected. I have Read it Later for offline reading.
- Eye candies are not required: I like it simple. It should look good, but not extravagant.
Now, I had a great idea for an awesome reader, so here goes. I love TweetDeck. I love the column view, going in-and-out, organizing columns, adding, etc. It just works. I want something similar, for my feeds.
In this app, you cannot have just one deck of columns, you will have multiple decks. You start from you dashboard and select a deck. Each deck contains columns. Each column can show articles from a specific feed or folder (perhaps multiple feeds/folders). There may be other type of columns like "likes" and "shares" (I don't really use those), even search results.
By default, each deck is a folder. However, you may rearrange and create new decks (without affecting the data in Google Reader). For example, I will have decks for "Immediate", "Daily", "Weekly", etc.
Ideally, one should be able to control, for each deck or column, how often it is updated (limiting the sync means faster loading) and some display properties like whether to preview full articles or headlines only.
One thing I would add on top of TweetDecks' UI is the ability to "expand in place" like the Google Reader web UI provides. Click on an item preview to expand it to a larger preview in place. A different icon or click can show the full item in a separate screen.
There are two important points to notice here:
- The organization of feeds on my laptop is not necessarily the same on my phone. Navigation is much easier on my laptop.
- Having columns means you get "at a glance" view of what's updates. You can zoom into a column, skim through it by swiping down. Then, swipe left and return to the previous column. You can spend a less than a minute figuring out what's new and more on with your life.