Google Reader iPhone App: problems

May 16, 2009

Reviews, Technology

The Google Reader iPhone App (or any reader application for that matter) and Desktop Readers are the types of interfaces [and if not the model for those] that will eventually the replace age-old practise of scanning broadsheet newspapers, the writing for which is already on the wall.  This makes these types of UIs crucial in the communication of daily news – the collection of which are, in effect, are customised news’papers’ for each individual that utilises them. In that vein, the Google Reader iPhone app, though good (albeit unstable), needs to rectify these problems:

Only 15 articles at a time

googlereaderiphone1-markedup

3G and even Edge networks (and certainly wifi) usually pull 15 story headlines in a matter of 3-4 seconds.  Scanning  a list of 15 items takes less than the reload time. Consequently, the Google Reader iPhone experience is substantially more about clicking “Load More Items” than it is actually scanning.

Suggested fix: allow the user to set their preferences for 30, 45 or even 100 items at time.

Feed Order not the Same as Google Reader (web) Settings

googlereaderiphone2-markedup

Google Reader (web) goes to great lengths to allow custom ordering of your feeds (rather than just by alpha order).  This makes a lot of sense as it allows you to prioritise the feeds in a way that suits you.  The Reader iPhone App, however, does not respect this order.  Instead, it lists folders then files in alphabetical order.

Compare the iPhone app view (left) and Google Reader view (right) simultaneously viewed for the same account:

Suggested rectification: respect the order set using the desktop interface.

‘Start Page’ not Honoured

googlereaderiphone3-markedup1

Following on from above, it occurred to me that creating a folder “_New” (or “_Favorite”), thus sorting it to the top of the Reader iPhone App UI, dragging all my preferred feeds to this folder (using the desktop Reader ajax UI), and then setting my “Start Page” to the “_New” folder (using the Reader iPhone App Settings menu) – but this is just plain broken (IE, the setting is not honoured)

Suggested rectification: either fix the bug, or honour the feed sort order set using Reader desktop.


Other worthwhile suggestions

I agree that the little “mark items read” link is too finicky and that we need larger buttons for this and the ‘Mark Items Read’ links as suggested by Chris Patterson here.

Alternative News Feed iPhone Apps?

I’d like to stick with Google Reader on the desktop (it’s solid).  So, if you have any suggestions for reading Google consoidated feeds on the iPhone please post a comment  – we’d love to hear about it.

Update (18-May): I am currently evaluating Byline (reviewed here and here).  The reviews and screenshots so far suggest it is excellent.  One small problem is that it requires the 2.2.1 iPhone update (which I’ve been avoiding because I’ve been hearing some scary stories about installation issues) – oh well, here goes nothing.

Update (18-May): Doppler (or DopplerLite) – nice try, but the typography on the news items (a critical issue for readability) is woeful

Illustration credit: “Google Reader Icon” by Tempest (CC)

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About Justin Moss

An information and engineering technologist. Unabashedly opinionated, open-minded and an oft overthinker. Born Sydney Australia, home of the 'Southerly Buster'

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7 Responses to “Google Reader iPhone App: problems”

  1. Rob Vanasco Says:

    Have you tried Gazzette for the iPhone? I’e been using it for a while now and have no real issues with it…other than I wish I could share items on twitter/facebook from the app. But GReader doesn’t do that either.

  2. Justin Moss Says:

    Hi Rob. No, I’ve not tried Gazette – it however looks good. It appears to lack the group-by-source function which is offered by Byline, which is the reader I currently use. Byline is good, for two reasons: – it offers the group-by-feed function and the typography is superior to anything else I’ve seen (even Gazette, judging by the screengrabs). The downside of Byline is that it is, or at least was, buggy as hell. It’s improved over the last couple of months but I am still a little uncertain (obviously not enough to stop me using it though).

  3. Irishman Says:

    The biggest complaint I have for the iPhone version of GReader is the font for the stories. I am over 40 and don’t want to pull out my reading glasses to use a phone. I need to set the font to a larger size to read it comfortably and there is no setting like that for the web based iPhone Google Reader.

    Hence, I use a combination of Gazette and Byline for GReader applications. Neither is perfect but the combination of the two covers all the bases of what I need.

  4. Justin Moss Says:

    Hi Irishman, I completely agree (and thank you for the comment). Byline, which I use, probably only renders its stories [or headlines at least] in a font 1px/pt larger than Google Reader – but it makes all the difference. The provision of a ‘Font Size’ option in any reader apps would likely make a significant difference in the decision to use one over the other. In any case though, I’d probably not abandon Byline for it has easily the best interface and sort options, not to mention the fact that the latest update seems to have solved the ‘crash on update during syncing (in grouped-by-source view)’ problem.

  5. Simon Says:

    NetNewsWire have just updated to start interfacing with Google Reader.. might be worth a check. I have been using it for some time and I find it pretty good.

  6. jstar Says:

    I agree, the font is way to small for this app! Curse bad eyes!

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