I’ve been an Instapaper devotee for a while. When people talk about their “workflows,” Instapaper is a vital part of mine. There’s a few things I really like about it (especially its business model, but I won’t get political). That being said, iOS 7 is bringing about a sea of change. Between that massive update and Betaworks’ acquisition of Instapaper, I was curious about the other offerings.
Although I know that there’s an update to Instapaper for iPhone that’s pretty nice and a bigger update for iPad coming, Pocket beat them to the market. With the newest updates to Pocket, the app is now built for iOS 7 and comes complete with all the new technologies that the update enables. Read on to find out what I think.
Pocket hasn’t changed a lot from its older days. I used to use it a fair bit when it was initially rebranded, and it’s shocking how little it’s changed. The app still retains the same initial interface; apart from minor changes to things like the in-app Options toggles, there aren’t many initial differences.
In some ways, not a lot has changed visually.
Pocket’s got a (relatively) new Sharing menu that makes it easy to send an article to a friend or use any of your other preferred services. If you haven’t tried the app in a while, it’s going to be a new to you in this update. It’s pretty nice, but at the same time, it also takes up a lot of screen space for very few actions. The most you can place on a screen at any given point in time is six — even on an iPad screen where space isn’t at such a premium — and that just won’t cut it if you use a lot of different services.
But for the most part, the app works identically as before. This is a good thing. Pocket has always been reliable and aesthetically pleasing, and it continues to be that way. In fact, it’s arguable that the app looks a lot better on iOS 7 than the competition because the design was already forward-thinking.
The in-app toggles are now in line with iOS 7′s UI.
That being said, there are some things that I wish would change. If I elect to read an article in Sepia or Dark mode, then how come the menu doesn’t reflect that when I go to read another article? This hasn’t changed since day one, but this inconsistency needs to go. It’s bothersome, particularly at night, when the screen suddenly brightly glows with loads of white.
If It’s Broken, Break It Some More
That being said, there are quite a few changes sprinkled through the app. Sadly, not all of these are improvements (although there are some of those, which I’ll get to shortly).
First off, there’s a minor change in the iPhone app that makes it more consistent with iOS 7. You can now swipe to the right to back a page, just like Safari. This introduces problems of its own: Swiping to the left should bring you forward, again like Safari, but it doesn’t in the menu. Instead, swiping to the left brings up the Action pane for the article you’ve selected. And on the iPad, swiping to the right in an article turns off pagination — and there’s no quick menu toggle to turn this off without returning to the main screen’s Options.
My quick remedy is to get rid of pagination in the iPad version, which serves very little purpose while reading a web article. I’d also replace the left swipe article menu with right swipe instead, so a left swipe will bring you forward like it should and a right swipe will bring you back another level to delete an article — just like it should. This brings it more in line with the rest of iOS and addresses the inconsistencies sprinkled throughout both apps.
If It’s Broken, Make It Better
This brings me to what does work, though. Let’s talk first about the big visual changes to the app. The new Pocket update comes with an enhanced Sepia mode. I know this might be unimportant to some people, but for me, Sepia is the big visual reason I switched to Instapaper. I think it’s a hard, but important, reading mode to get right. Done properly, it should look very similar to real paper — especially on a high-resolution Retina screen – but also have high contrast with screen-ready typography.
The new Sepia mode is largely done very well.
The new Sepia mode in Pocket addresses some of those concerns. The background colour is much more accurate than it used to be, and as a whole, the mode is accurate enough where it’s become my default reading mode in the app. (Prior to the update, I defaulted to the Dark mode). That being said, I believe that the font colour could be a higher contrast if it were pure black instead of the off-brown colour Pocket is using right now (although the blue they’re using for links is excellent). I also wish there a couple extra font choices, but what Pocket is currently using isn’t too bad.
Finally, the other major enhancement for readability updates in this version of the app is auto-justification with proper hyphenation. Before the update, the app didn’t properly hyphenate justified text, which made it awkwardly spaced and often meant that it took up far more space on the screen than left justification. With the update, full justification is easily the nicest way to read in the app. Text is usually hyphenated properly (although sometimes, it the app doesn’t catch it for whatever reason), and it looks pretty good. I wish it worked a little more consistently, but on the whole, this is a huge improvement.
The new full justification with correct hyphenation is excellent.
I’m also thrilled with the new background syncing, which is a huge update to the app that really knocks it out of the park. The app now uses iOS 7’s background update feature to make sure that your article queue is updated throughout the day. When you open the app, your articles are sitting there without you doing a thing. This is a marked improvement from before and a big leg up over the competition, most of which haven’t dropped iOS 6 or lower support yet. Background updating is a feature exclusive to iOS 7, and I’m glad the Pocket team made it available so soon. It really makes them feel ahead of the curve.
I’m at a bit of a cross. While there are some elements of the app that I dislike from a design perspective, I’m also enamoured with Pockets attempts to stay ahead of the curve. The new Sepia mode isn’t bad, and the background updating is fantastic. I wish there were more typefaces to chose from, and I definitely wish that both apps felt more cohesive with their implementation of swiping to go back or forward.
Despite the app’s flaws, though, it’s pretty clear that their text parser is jumping the curve and becoming the best one available on iOS 7. I’m looking forward to when Instapaper becomes iOS 7-exclusive, but Pocket might be the best read later app on iOS right now despite its flaws.