in Technology

Ever since the immensely missed Google Reader service shut down last year, everyone seem to have been scurrying around trying to find a viable alternative. I settled for Feedly, exclusively using their iOS apps.

Being an avid RSS user and I find it quite enjoyable when given the ability to catch up on feeds in short bursts instead of having to read though an entire folder of items before being “done”. Its main application is during my daily commute where Feedly shows my unread feed items one screenful at a time. When switching to the next screen to grab a bite of articles, the previously displayed articles are automatically marked as read.

Now there is a new RSS reader in town called Unread, with a focus on beautiful design and creating an immersive reading experience. After some exceptional reviews from Shawn Blanc and Macstories among others, I decided to take it for a spin.

My very first thought after installing the app was the out-of-place icon. I can’t put my finger on the inherent problems with it, but it somehow stands out among the rest of the iOS 7 icons – and not in a good way.

Launching the app, thumbing though the initial introduction guide and adding my Feedly account was however an excellent and painless experience. Not to mention the easy access to Pocket integration, theme selection and other settings.

Like other reviewers have mentioned, the reading experience is impeccable. The article view features a beautiful and spacious layout without being in the way or feeling over-designed in any way.

I do have some nitpicks which makes me doubt that I will use this instead of my trusty “old” Feedly:

  • There seems to be no way of going from one article to the next without first having to backtrack to the feed list.
  • Unread is a game of swipes which works fairly well, but I do love the double-tap feature of Feedly which takes me back to the previous view – usually the list view after reading an article.

My most beloved feature of Feedly is naturally the one missing from Unread as well – I desperately want the ability to automatically mark articles as read when I scroll past them, without having to scroll to the end of the current feed or folder and mark it all as read. This sole feature provides the comfort and removes the threshold and worry of always needing enough reading time to finish an entire feed or folder.

I realize that Jared Sinclair had a certain philosophy in is mind when designing this app, and it is apparent after reading the introductory text on his website:

I made Unread because I wanted to get back to a more deliberate style of reading. I designed it for times of quiet focus. With warm typography and a sparse interface, it invites me to return to the way I used to read before I fell into the bad habit of skimming and forgetting.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve subscribed to more websites than you have time or attention to read. I was paranoid that I was missing out on important writing. The irony is that the more subscriptions I had, the less I read. All too often, my “unread” articles remained exactly that.

Does Unread do all the things you expect from a typical RSS reader? Sure. But you won’t find a feature list here. Features don’t nourish your mind. I suggest that you don’t buy Unread if you aren’t interested in pruning your reading lists. Unread can handle dozens of feeds and thousands of articles with ease, but why would you want it to?

Let Unread be an opportunity to break away from your old reading habits. Let Twitter or be the place for loud, busy feeds. Let RSS be the place where great independent writing thrives. Choose your favorite writers and read them closely.

I really get what he is trying to achieve1 and I am all for winding down and taking the time to purposely read instead of skim, but software shouldn’t be the source of frustration, but instead a source of inspiration and provide a sense of satisfaction and calm.

Overall, I’m undecided.

Photo credit: 512 pixels

  1. I am not certain that the iPhone should have been the first platform to launch though. With his philosophy in mind, wouldn’t the iPad provide a more elegant and pleasurable reading experience?