On the Topic of Readability

On the Topic of Readability

Mar 09, 2012 Reviews

I don’t know about you, but whenever I open the Readability iOS app, it feels as if I’ve entered my own, personal reading nook. The app feels hand-made — hand-crafted, more like — and the app feels much like my very own personal novel, filled with content I’ve so meticulously saved over the past few weeks of web browsing.

For those of you who don’t know, Readability is a reading platform, very much like Instapaper (more on that subject in a bit) or Read It Later, which is an online tool (or rather, a web service) where you can save articles for reading later. Recently, Readability launched its sole companion app for the web service so that its users can read their articles on-the-go, though users were able to do so anyway with its companion web interface right before their flagship app was released on the App Store.

Readability started out as a simple javascript bookmarklet by the guys over at Arc90. What it actually did before it turned into the reading platform it is today was that it turned any web article into a much more readable view — hence  readability. For example, if you’re viewing an article on the TIME website, and you’re easily distracted by the ads placed on the margins (and sometimes even within the article), simply hitting the Readability bookmarklet “magically” takes the text from the article and pulls it up into a cleaner view.

Now sure, that sounds a lot like Apple’s Safari Reader, Web-tool “X” or whatever service similar to that which you could think of, but remember to bear in mind this was just a simple experiment by Arc90 back in 2009. And, if you take a look at Readability’s about page, Apple’s own Safari Reader was based off of Arc90’s project.

Fast forward to today, what you have here is the most elegant, well-designed reading platform currently on the web. Coming from me, I know it sounds a little too flattering, but if you had the time to compare Readability’s good looks between the other similar tools like it out there, Readability would most likely win.

More on the topic of that, the tools Readability has to offer is very much akin to that of Instapaper’s. Though, the entire gist of having a browser bookmarklet/extension save an article for reading on-the-go was more of an Instapaper ideal, since Instapaper’s iOS app came years before Readability’s own web app did, and was fast to be “critically-acclaimed” since its beginning.

Now, what seems to be a much improved version, in terms of aesthetics, of Marco Arment’s creation (he’s the guy that made Instapaper), Readability seems to be, in my opinion, much more designed. In terms of the iOS app, it seems more fluid, (the article syncing feels slightly less flimsy), more customizable (we’ll talk more about that below) and, well, pretty (even though David Lanham designed the in-app menu icons of Instapaper, I feel that Readability’s approach of the less-is-more UI-less trend feels much more cleaner and elegant).

Readability on the web, however, feels much more different. Unlike the simplicity of Instapaper’s text-only reading mode, Readability’s feels much like that of Evernote’s Clearly service (a web tool almost exactly like Readability) sporting that of an ever-so slightly distracting sidebar with annoying buttons which, at any point, I don’t ever feel like using. It’s funny how much the tables have turned, in terms of design and UI simplicity, because Readability’s desktop web app strays away from its own brilliantly simple, iOS app.

In abstract, Readability on iOS feels in as much as good as Instapaper on its desktop web app, and vice-versa, if you’re talking about the opposite.

But what about the general population, so to speak? Which of two do they use the most, and is more highly regarded? Well, last week, The Industry held a poll asking voters to decide which, between the two of the prominent web services, they prefer the most — and it is apparent, as of today, that around 47% of votes chose Readability as their most preferred reading service, whilst Instapaper got a percentage around of 43% (still pretty close). The rest, either can’t decide which (about 7%) or that they use neither (about 3%).

Though, it really isn’t much that big of a difference since about nearly 50% chose either Instapaper or Readability. Even if we were to ask a whole lot more people to vote and decide, I still think that both Instapaper and Readability will have equal the amount of percentage of preferred users.


Now, how about more on that Readability iOS app, you ask? In it’s entirety: It’s really, really beautiful.

As mentioned earlier, launching the app every time makes me feel like I’ve entered my own, personal, quiet reading space. Just like that chair that seems to be the service’s paramount logo, it makes me feel as if it’s time to relax, a place where I can just sit down, comfortably reading away.

And when I mean comfortably reading away, I mean that Readability’s embrace of brilliant typography and Hoefler & Frere-Jones fonts (I’m at heart, a true typography fan) makes me feel like I want to read what’s there. It makes me want to look at the text more and more, without wearing my eyes out and having me force myself copy and paste the article into a Pages document, just so I could get a better feel of it.

The Readability app also comes with a degree of customisation, where things like fonts and font size, dark-mode to vice-versa, or the option to share the article via Facebook or Twitter are there just to keep the users like me, sane (I’m a huge fan of Instapaper’s customizable options).

Though, after having been an avid user of Instapaper and it’s awesome degree of options and integrated services, Readability at some parts, feels incomplete. For example, the “friends” feature I so often use in Instapaper to check out wonderful, sometimes unique, articles is hindered by Readability’s simplicity. Sometime in the future, I’d like something as similar to this, or perhaps even better, integrated and included in the app.

Besides that, there really isn’t much to say about Readability’s wonderful flagship app. It’s wonderful, beautiful, well-designed, detailed, functional, and most importantly, the app itself feels a lot personal. To me, it feels like I’m carrying my own 500-page, well-designed hardcover book filled with great articles I have yet to read, and of course, minus the weight.

Readability is available on the App Store for a low, low price of free — and of course, you can check out their website as well.

What do you think about Instapaper and Readability? Design wise? Functionality? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or vote for your preference in our poll!

  • Jamcjph

    Very informative. Thank you.

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