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Reading RSS and Atom feeds on the iPad

For a long time, I have been very happy with Google Reader for RSS/Atom feed reading. But it has been in slow decline. For example, it is slightly buggy on Firefox and almost unusable on the iPad. This blog post describes alternatives for the iPad.

My feed reading habits

For me feed reading is an online activity. I mainly read news feeds with many small items, where one frequently needs to follow up by browsing the web. Hence, the perfect user interface for me has three levels:
  • Level 1: All feeds, in a tree whose inner nodes are the folders and whose leaves are the feeds.
  • Level 2 (master): All of a feeds items.
  • Level 3 (detail): The currently selected feed item.
Often, one descends from level 1 into level 2 and the latter replaces the former. That is, level 1 and level 2 are not shown at the same time. I particularly don’t like magazine-style layouts, because those tend to break down when there are many small feed items. Furthermore, one has to be able to quickly navigate through these items and should always see an overview of them. Hence, I want to see the item list while in a feed and the item content should never take up the whole screen.

Any feed reader should sync its state (subscribed feeds, read items, etc.) across devices. The best way to do so is currently to simply sync with Google Reader. That has the added advantage that one can always temporarily use Google Reader (e.g. on a desktop computer).

Web-based solutions

The problem with web-based solutions is that they often don’t work well with the iPad. I’ve tried several ones, the most promising was Newsblur. But its structure wasn’t quite what I wanted and it doesn’t support the iPad well. I’ve heard good things about Fever, but haven’t checked it out, because I didn’t want to install server-side software (I have gotten lazy and avoid this kind of activity whenever I can).


The following iPad apps were most interesting. All of them sync with Google Reader.
  • Reeder ($4.99): looks nice, but its newspaper-style user interface quickly becomes cluttered when there are many feeds with many unread items.
  • NetNewsWire ($9.99): good, but does not allow me to mark an item as unread. No Retina display support.
  • Feeddler (free with ads): interesting, but does not show item list and item content side by side.
  • Byline (free with ads): ended up being my final choice. Nitpicks are minor (no Retina support, feed tree cannot be reordered, item list not permanently displayed in portrait mode).

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