The official Readability app for iOS, available today on the App Store, had a complicated history with Apple and its approval process. Since Readability relaunched last year with an ambitious focus on publishers and “read anywhere”, the service struggled to get its native app for iPhone and iPad approved by Apple due to an initial controversy with iTunes app subscriptions, which were seemingly reserved to “publishing apps” only, and weren’t meant to be accessed by any third-party developer. With the app stuck in a limbo, Readability went back to the drawing board and developed a full-featured HTML5 web app for mobile devices, whilst releasing additional tools for the web and Kindle at the same time. Months passed, and Readability — which in the meantime put together a quite impressive list of advisors and supporting developers — announced an updated strategy with free access for everyone, and a paid option for users willing to actively and directly contribute to the sites they are reading the most in Readability. With the new free plan, Readability also announced they had submitted a new version of their iOS app to Apple. Three months later, the app is now live on the App Store.
I have been able to test the app — a collaboration between Readability and development and design studio Teehan + Lax — for the past week, and I’m fairly impressed by this first version. But let’s go back to the main point: what’s Readability? And how does the native iOS app complement the ecosystem the developers have built in the past 12 months?
Much like Instapaper, Read It Later, or recent entrants in this scene like Evernote Clearly, Readability’s goal is to declutter webpages to offer an elegant, comfortable reading view on any device. Meant for web articles, Readability can fetch a webpage’s text and images, strip out unnecessary elements like ads, and reformat everything with a focus on beautiful typography, a clean layout, and the possibility of syncing this reformatted content to mobile devices like an iPhone, iPad, or Android handset. Like the services mentioned above, Readability works in any web browser thanks to a bookmarklet or extension, as well as compatible third-party apps that have been updated to include a “mobilizer” functionality or a “send to” action to forward URLs directly to a Readability account. As you can see from Readability’s website, the list of apps supporting the service includes excellent names like Tweetbot (our review) and The Early Edition 2.
With the proliferation of read-later tools and apps we’ve witnessed throughout 2011, why would anyone switch from, say, Instapaper or Read It Later to Readability, which is a rather new player in the field? Well, for one, Readability isn’t exactly new to this market, as the company behind it, arc90, licensed the original codebase for its reading technology to Apple for the Safari Reader feature seen on the Mac and iOS. Second, to differentiate its product from the plethora of available read-later browser companions and mobile apps, Readability spiced up its offering with a unique “support the publishers” spin that, as we detailed, allows users to pay for Readability and give 70% of their subscriptions back to the websites they read.
Here’s how it works: Every time you use Readability to read an article, a portion of your monthly contribution is earmarked for that publisher or writer. For example, if half of the stories you read in a given month come from The New York Review of Books, half of your earmarked funds will be allocated to The New York Review of Books.
With these differences in mind, I was excited to try the finally-approved Readability iOS app, and see how it would compare to Instapaper, which is my go-to app and service when it comes to saving articles for later, as I wrote in my review of version 4.0. From an Instapaper lover’s perspective, let me get this out of the way right now: if you’re used to all the features Instapaper offers — especially on the iPhone and iPad — you’ll be disappointed to find in Readability for iOS a “simple” app to read the articles you’ve saved from a browser. There is no discovery, no Friends integration, no support for forwarding liked items to Pinboard or Evernote. On the other hand, Readability’s simplicity and focused approach might just be what you’ve been looking for, so let’s dive in. (more…)