Good software ideas are often improved upon and replaced. MySpace (which I never used) was destroyed by Facebook. Tweetie (which became, and was adulterated by, the official Twitter app) was replaced by TweetBot. I use Reeder for my RSS over Google Reader. I use Downcast for my podcasts because iTunes kinda stinks.
I really never thought I would say this, though… I think Instapaper just got replaced.
Ok. Let me step back a bit and say that I love Instapaper. I think it is a great service and very well done. If you’ve listened to any of Marco Arment’s podcasts where he has discussed the history of the service and app it’s clear that the initial purpose of Instapaper was to save online articles to be read later. That is, to save some bit of text to be read or accessed at a more convenient time. And make no mistake. It does this extremely well.
Instapaper was designed, and continues to be iterated to that aim. Indeed, the latest upgrade, 4.1, offers new fonts and other features that make offline reading a really pleasurable experience. In this way Instapaper is a great iOS app. It does one thing, saving articles for reading at a later time, and it does it better than just about any other app out there.
The problem, for me, is that Instapaper’s ‘one thing’ doesn’t actually fit what I use it for. I do use it to save articles. But I also use it to save links, videos, blog posts with photos, etc. Basically anything I find on the Internet that I want to save, whether to read later or watch later or whatever, I throw into Instapaper and get to it later.
I know. It’s not designed for that. I know. Evernote is designed for that. I’ve used Evernote. And Evernote is the Microsoft Office of save-stuff-for-later apps. It tries to be everything for everyone and is so cumbersome and ugly that I just can’t stand it. A program you don’t like to use is a program you don’t use, no matter how useful. Pinboard has the opposite problem. It’s just saving links. No later off-line viewing in app because, no app.
So, what I really need is an application with the ease-of-use and simplicity of Instapaper with the robustness to handle most everything I throw at it.
Pocket, until yesterday, was Read It Later. I never used Read It Later because as an Instapaper user I had no good reason to use Read It Later, or Readability — yet another save-for-reading-later service. Read It Later has been completely re-branded and re-designed as not just a read-it-when-you’ve-got-time service, but as a save-anything-and-everything-for-whenever service.
Some of the things that made me start using it:
You can very easily and cleanly view videos in the app. I save a lot of videos to watch later. Whether its because I’m working and don’t have the time or because I’m in a store somewhere and don’t want to chance getting Rickrolled, it’s nice to save those for viewing later. Pocket lets watch them right there from my main list.
For items with images or video Pocket gives you a little preview image next to the item. [Note: I like Pocket in list view, just like how I had Instapaper set up. The thumbnail view has all of the same functionality.] That’s just a nice little addition to help you find items so you don’t feel like you’re reading everything before you read one thing. The search function works well for that, too. On the iPad the preview image is on the left. It’s on the right in the iPhone app.
It pulls multiple pages with one save. Saywhatnow? When you’re on the first page of a multi-page article (Which is stupid, link-bait bullcrap. This is the internet. There is no ‘fold’.) and you hit the handy bookmarklet to put it in your Pocket, the service pulls every page of that article and merges them into one readable document in your list. It does put in Page 2, etc., so you know it did it. [Note 2: Instapaper started doing this fairly recently as well. I don’t know off-hand whether Read It Later did this before.]
Whereas Instapaper uses a folder feature for organizing items, Pocket uses tags. I’m not usually a big fan of tags, but the implementation here is pretty solid. When you import your Instapaper items into Pocket (instructions for that here) the folders disappear and become tags attached to the articles that were in them. This was nice for me because I didn’t have to re-reorganize my items, again.
You can view all items, view just articles, view just video items, or view just photo items. And you can change this view very quickly with just two taps. You can also view your archive and your favorited items with two clicks. Favorites could easily become a kind of ad hoc home page with oft-visited links.
Now Pocket is not perfect. One wouldn’t expect a bottom-up re-design to be without some issues. But I’ve really only found one thing worth noting. Sometimes in your list everything below where you currently are just disappears. Poof. But it’s clearly just an app issue because if you switch lists, say to videos and back again, they pop right back. It could also have been an API or server load issue with the launch of the new app because I haven’t had it happen this morning at all.
I will freely admit that the pure reading experience of Pocket, although very good, is not quite up to the Instapaper standard. Those new fonts Marco added in the last update really makes for some nice reading. And I would really like to have pagnination rather than only scrolling. I like to swipe Kindle/iBooks-style rather than continuously sliding my grubby finger along the screen.
I honestly don’t know if Marco has anything to worry about with Pocket. Instapaper is a great service and a really, truly good app. This may very well be an instance where the apps are just serving different people with different needs and aren’t actually competing for many customers. I can’t say that I’d recommend Pocket over Instapaper. And I have and still do recommend Instapaper for reading internet articles later. It’s just that for my personal needs Pocket seems to fit better right now.