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Longform iPad app brings the web's best reads into one place (hands-on)

New, 10 comments has created an iPad app designed to help you find great things to read, and we got a chance to play with it before it was released.

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Gallery Photo: Longform iPad app pictures
Gallery Photo: Longform iPad app pictures

There are a large (and growing) number of ways to read the stuff you find online — Instapaper, Read it Later, Readability, and Evernote Clearly, to name just a few — but finding things to read can be harder. That's where sites like Longreads and Longform have come in: they filter out the junk and share only the best, meatiest pieces, tearing out the first three quarters of a magazine and leaving only the features in the back. This week, Longform is launching a new, $4.99 iPad app that makes a new publication out of those ripped-apart mags, giving readers a customizable, readable way to access an endless supply of long reads.

We got to try out the app ahead of its release in the App Store today, and it's a solid first effort despite feeling a little barebones at the moment (especially for the price). The aesthetic will be instantly familiar to anyone who's used Instapaper or similar apps — no frills whatsoever, with a text-heavy interface on an off-white background. You can find things to read from 25 different sources, culled from the most popular Longform pieces and consisting of all the usual suspects, from The New Yorker and GQ to The Awl and The Morning News. Longform's software sorts the publications' feeds to cut out slideshows and blog posts, and show only the longer-form work. Everything is downloaded automatically for offline reading, so you can read without an internet connection.

"You don't want to curl up before bed and see 1,000 unread items, you just want to have something good to read"

You can share articles on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, or save them to Readability, Instapaper, and Read it Later — though the app only displays your reading queue if you're using Readability. That's a shame for power users, because an app that shows you lots of new content and your Instapaper queue would be pretty fantastic, but that's not what Longform is going for.

"Part of the original idea," Longform editor Max Linksy told us, "was 'how can we make a read-later service for lazy people, and our mothers?'" The goal was to create a way to find something interesting to read without all the effort, searching, and unread counts that come with a service like Instapaper. And, Linsky said, to help you find things you might not save to your Instapaper queue. "I think there are a lot of smaller publications that are doing really incredible work, and aren't being read enough. That's where the discovery stuff is going to come in."

That "discovery stuff" is what Linsky and Longform are working on for the next generation of the app. Coming versions will include a huge number of sources, with the ultimate goal of showing you the high-profile stuff from The New Yorker and Wired, but also things from publications in India that you've never heard of that you might still like. But above all, Linsky said, it will be simple: "this is entertainment and leisure, not just news. You don't want to curl up before bed and see 1,000 unread items, you just want to have something good to read."

That's a sentiment even power users like us can appreciate.