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First look: Readability app for iOS a mobile boon for users

updated 09:00 pm EST, Thu March 1, 2012

Despite typical 1.x issues, a treat for readers

After a long struggle with Apple's App Store policies that resulted in the company changing its business model, the typographical service Readability has arrived for iOS devices. Readability takes articles from the web and reconfigures the content to eliminate ads and other distractions, adjust the font and size for best readability and lets users save articles for later reading, now syncing across between computers and iOS devices automatically.

If you're not already a member of Readability, you can still "sample" the technology by pointing your web browser to a web page with a longish article that you'd like to read (for example, an Electronista camera or smartphone review, or maybe a story from the online version of your local newspaper) and click on the "Reader" button that appears in the URL bar of your desktop or notebook Safari browser. Almost instantly, the page is transformed to focus on the content of the article in large, easy-to-read and elegant typography. Safari's Reader feature is actually licensed from Readability.

The main advantage of becoming a member of (the website) is to take advantage of syncing a cloud-based reading list over multiple devices, and to enjoy offline reading of saved articles. Content saved using the Readability bookmarket or browser add-on are instantly synced with your mobile devices over Wi-Fi and vice-versa.

For users who are already Readability members, the iOS app will be an instant extension of the reading they are already doing, and a welcome addition to any iPad (and the iPhone or iPod Touch, particularly with their smaller screens). The large, beautiful (and adjustable/customizable) type makes even the longest Ars Technica or Scientific American in-depth article a true pleasure to read, and the iPad's form factor and leisurely style especially make the app a perfect complement.

Before (left) and after (right) illustrate the difference Readability makes

In using the iOS app on our iPad and iPhone (both running the current iOS 5 version), we did notice some instability in the web browser portion of the app (switching between sections of The New York Times would occasionally cause a crash) and when returning to the browser after saving an article for later reading (though the article was saved successfully). We also found the use of a URL bar at the top of the reading list (intended, we finally realized, for searching a long reading list) somewhat confusing compared to a similar URL bar for actually doing web searches and typing in URLs in a different section. When we tried putting in a website in the "wrong" area (the reading list), we got a simple "no results found" rather than a suggestion to try the term in a web search as we would have liked.

Users who were already members of Readability will find their previously-saved reading lists available, but new users who first start working with Readability via the iOS app may be initially confused by the lack of pre-packaged content or links. One article about how to use the program is automatically present in a new member's Reading List, but new users who are accustomed to aggregators like Flipboard might wish for a few "starting points" or suggestions that help them find some of the beefier content on the web.

Aside from a few first-release "teething issues," the overall benefit of Readability for iOS is enormous. The free app transforms the long-form reading experience on the web, and allows syncing of reading lists across multiple devices (including Android and Kindle), offline reading, sending articles to a Kindle device or app, and sharing links to articles via social networks or e-mail.

The app is also compatible with other RSS reader programs, including Reeder, Pulse and most Twitter apps and web browsers. The service is ad-free, though Readability does (gently) encourage an entirely voluntary monthly subscription (suggested rate: $5), 70 percent of which is given to the publishers of the content a user saves. This, in turn, supports more content and rewards great writing. We would suggest to Readability's developers that they add PayPal alongside the credit-card-based payment options.

We found that signing up and establishing an early Reading List was fastest on our home computers, but in future versions we expect Readability for iOS to become more capable of acting as a stand-alone app rather than sort of the "little brother" to the browser-based add-ons that are the app's roots. The program definitely makes us more eager to dive into longer articles that we normally have little time for, now that we are able to save them and enjoy them much more pleasurably and easily on mobile devices, whether it be on the bus going home from work on stretched out on the couch, or sitting by the pool on vacation for that matter.

Readability for iOS is free but requires iOS 4.2 or later. Content that has been saved for later reading is available offline, but an internet connection via Wi-Fi or 3G is required to update the Reading List.

The Reading List of saved articles is always available by swiping to the right.

Typographic controls give users flexibility in different reading environments

A view of Readability on the iPhone

by MacNN Staff



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