The "death of RSS" argument gets tossed around every few months, but let's be honest: no matter how often feed junkies argue that RSS is as strong as it's ever been, Bloglines-style feed-reading never really had a shot at breakout mainstream success to begin with. Apps like Flipboard showed us a more visual and social way to get our news, and both Facebook and Twitter are following the same path. Still, I prefer skipping the "social" Facebook feed for a finely tuned set of folders and feeds offering the daily possibility of internet gold and a way to keep up with everything from magazines to tiny blogs without having to stay glued to Twitter. One of the best RSS apps to emerge on iOS is Silvio Rizzi's Reeder. The iPhone app's updating today to Version 3.0 with a brand new icon, multiple accounts, new swipeable gestures, and a fresh look. How's it hold up? Read on!
Design and UI
You can finally add RSS feeds from within the app
For first time users, Reeder offers a straightforward interface without tons of bells and whistles (above on the left is the old app, on the right the new app). The app is mostly gradations of gray, with feed favicons offering the only hint of color outside of images in individual feed items. Regular users of Reeder will appreciate many of the subtle new animations across the app like pop-over alerts, accordion bends, and tiny shakes as new feed items snap into place. Your RSS feeds are sorted by folders, and clicking through to any folder (or your entire list of items) gives you the option of viewing by starred or unread items, or broken down by feed. After two major revisions, users can finally add new RSS feeds from within the app, instead of requiring you to manage from a desktop browser.
On startup, you'll notice that your account settings, services, and more have been moved out of the iOS Settings and integrated directly into Reeder's new settings section. Reeder's always been known for its deep support for sharing services, and the 3.0 update is no slouch, with new additions like QUOTE.fm and Buffer added to the Instapaper and Evernote standbys. I've always liked Reeder's ability to pop up a share menu on nearly everything in the app, ranging from links and highlighted sections to individual articles. The sharing overlay got a subtle transparent black redesign, and it's a shame the options can't be enabled across iOS; Android really got sharing right.
At the top of the item feed, you'll find a Readability icon loading a cleaner "Readability view" of the page. There's also a quick access menu for adjusting type size and line height. Swiping from left to right moves you back to the full feed list view, and swiping right to left loads the web view. These gestures don't work when you're viewing a full list of feed entries, so you can't swipe all the way back to the top directory. Instead, swiping on individual items can be customized for quickly marking as read or sending the item to services like Instapaper, Pocket, and Readability. Swiping up on an item reveals an accordion card interaction that Silvio Rizzi told me was inspired by the OS X Mail.app paperfold. Pulling on it past a certain point and releasing causes the next feed to load. Now, with two fingers, you can swipe up or down at any point in a feed of items and mark all as read above or below (respectively) — it's an elegant idea that should be integrated into every feed reader.
Serious news junkies now have the option to add multiple accounts, and the app now supports Shaun Inman's Fever service as well. It's nothing too special — you can dig into your folders, unread list, and the hot section — but it's good to see support for other services. Interestingly, you can also hook up your Readability account as a source account to keep your entire reading list and your RSS feeds all in one app. Hopefully, Instapaper and Pocket support will be added in future versions.
I've got hundreds of feeds in my personal Google Reader account, so I'm greeted most mornings by a couple thousand unread items. The old app handled these just fine, but the 3.0 update is just slightly more sluggish in testing when moving between folders, lists, and individual feed items on an iPhone 4S. More importantly, there's still no in-app search function for quickly digging into your feeds, and there aren't any feed management tools. Unfortunately, there's still no Notification Center support, so you can't set up alerts for specific feeds in case of breaking news or cat videos.
RSS readers are in a weird place these days. Algorithms and social networks have popped up since the early days of RSS to give us more "relevant" news and links, but there's still something satisfying and useful about diving into your own feeds, and a quality feedreading tool is as essential as ever. Reeder's clean design and no-nonsense approach to feedreading won't make it the next billion dollar app, but it's not trying to be that. For anyone that needs to keep up with RSS feeds on their phone, Reeder is well worth checking out. It's available now as a free upgrade in the App Store.