Bringing iOS to the Desktop: Why You Should Get Excited

When Steve Jobs gave a preview of the new version of OS X, he talked at length about the idea of bringing what they’d learned through iOS “Back to the Mac”. Unsurprisingly, sweating the details of one of the best mobile interfaces in the industry has given Apple a great deal of insight and experience that can be applied to OS X.

This concept excites some people, and disturbs others. Although I love my iPad, do I want the same experience on the desktop? Or is this platform still better suited for more intricate, complex interface design?

Although iPhoto ’11 started to hint at how this transition may play out, it still felt very much like a traditional desktop app. I couldn’t really see how bringing iOS interface elements and functionality to the desktop would lead to an overall better experience.

Until this week.

Having spent two days using the Reeder for Mac beta, I’m completely blown away by how well—when executed to perfection—this amalgamation of iOS and OS X can work.

Show Me

If you are yet to take Reeder for Mac for a spin, here’s a quick one-minute screencast showing the interface in action:

This is the Future

When opening Reeder for the first time, you’ll feel like you’ve just launched an iPad app on your Mac. The resemblance is uncanny, right down to the use of iOS interface controls for swapping between different view modes. Everything animates with a fluidity rarely found on desktop apps, and Reeder just oozes a style that’s hard to pin down.

By way of a quick overview, Reeder is a desktop client for Google Reader. It’s been available on the iPhone and iPad for some time, and definitely holds the title of “best Google Reader” client in my book. The care and attention to detail invested into Reeder are unparalleled elsewhere.

My Favourite Software Feature of 2010

It’s late in the year, but this fantastic feature of Reeder for Mac immediately takes the top spot:

When you’re reading an article in text mode, Reeder pre-loads the original web page completely behind the scenes. If you decide you want to see the original version, click the article headline, and the original web page slides in with absolutely no loading time. This is insanely clever, and it makes the application feel lightning quick.

Edit, Cut, Refine

The process of cutting something down to the bare essentials is an art. Whether that’s in writing, photography, video, or software design—it makes no difference. The beauty of the iPad is that it forces the developer to consider the bare minimum that the user needs to be exposed to.

Screen space is at a minimum, and there’s no convenient Menu Bar into which every miscellaneous setting and option can be recklessly thrown. Each element, control, and piece of information needs to justify an existence in the application interface.

This is the way that software design should be, and it’s this process of refining and editing that makes many of my favourite iPad applications such a joy to use. So often on the desktop I find myself not using 75% of an app’s functionality, but still being burdened by these unnecessary menu icons, preferences and buttons. This hardly ever happens on the iPad, and I use almost every app to its full potential.

Just for a moment, let’s take a look at this difference personified. This is the screen that loads when I fire up Reeder for Mac:

The Reeder Interface at Launch

The Reeder Interface at Launch

Simple, understated, and with very little visual “commentary”. Yet I’m confident that I know what everything does, and how everything will respond when I click it.

Here’s how a competing app, NetNewsWire, looks:

NetNewsWire at Launch

NetNewsWire at Launch

Although these two apps have almost identical functionality (with the exception of not being able to managing your feeds in Reeder), there’s no comparison in terms of interface complexity. In Reeder, I’m shown only what I need to see at any given time. In NetNewsWire, I’m shown everything, all the time.

Seth explains perfectly why this is such a huge problem:

Once you overload the user, you train them not to pay attention. More clutter isn’t free. In fact, more clutter is a permanent shift, a desensitization to all the information, not just the last bit…

…More is not always better. In fact, more is almost never better.

No Need for Gestures

One of the main stumbling blocks with porting iOS application to the desktop is the difference in user interaction. Actions such as swiping and pinching often simply can’t be replicated on the desktop, at least not with any enjoyment (if you’ve ever tried the iPhone Simulator app, you’ll know why).

This is one of the reasons why I think it’s unlikely we’ll ever see iPhone or iPad applications reside in the OS X Dashboard. They aren’t designed for the desktop, and would be wholly unpleasant to use.

But Reeder manages to solve this problem in an interesting way, while retaining the feel you’ve come to love on iOS. Click up and down your feed categories on the left, and you’ll see the item list swipe left and right, just as if you were swiping on the iPad.

Click the headline of an item you’re reading, and the feed listing will smoothly hide itself to accommodate additional room for the in-app browser.

No actual “gestures” required—everything works perfectly with a single mouse click—but you still feel as through you’re swiping your way around an iOS interface.

Colour Me Impressed

Despite my initial skepticism over whether iOS could really come “Back to the Mac” in any meaningful way, Reeder’s interface and functionality has put me firmly back in my place. I’m happy to accept that this is certainly the way forward, and I can’t wait to see what Apple has in store for OS X Lion. Just the thought of a re-worked Mail app using Reeder’s interface styling makes me smile…

The constraints enforced by this new paradigm of interface design will persuade developers to take a more refined and carefully planned approach to software development. When this happens, everyone wins.

If this is the future of Mac software, 2011 can’t come fast enough.


Add Yours
  • As much as a I appreciate Reeder, the thought behind the usability of the interface is not there.

    It takes clicking a button to figure out what it does. There are buttons in all corners of the interface, so it means you have to move from top right, to bottom left to get to places. The thought behind bringing iPad to the Mac is not there, it’s fine when on a touch screen, but when not, it becomes painful to use.

    • My sentiments exactly.

      I actually prefer Reeder on my iPad and iPhone, but I deleted it after one day on my iMac…

      Usability-wise it’s a disaster on the desktop. Things could improve, though.

    • I’ll go a step further and say it’s probably the worst reader I’ve ever seen. It looks beautiful, but the usability is shockingly horrible, IMO.

  • I hope they add an option to configure the used font sizes. I can hardly read the small text on the left side.

  • Great article.

    I was blown away by Reeder’s ease of use and intitive controls. Also love the way the signins to Twitter, Delicious etc are handled.

    If this is the direction that iOS is going, then I’m yet again stoked with my recent move to Mac :)

  • What version of reeder is this? Your feeds sidebar is different to mine. i just have icons. I’d love to get the feed names there

    • Oh, nevermind. you just resize the column to get text.

      This app is great. I’d like the mark all as read button up the top near the close button as you usually hit close after marking all as read. It also needs the same right click options as safari has like spell checker, search google, speech, etc. And i’d love an ad blocker

    • Just drag it out like any sidebar.

      Also, David, in your screencast, it looks like your article background is white. Did you happen to have modified it in any way? Sometimes, when you modify a UI, you get used to it and forget what the original one looked like :P

      • No modifications at all—just the normal beta. Are you referring to the background behind the text in the right column?

      • Indeed I am. It might be that the background is a rather light shade of beige, which is why it looks white ;)

    • Get the latest update which was released today (Friday 12/03) morning

  • I don’t have Snow Leopard :c Just leopard

  • definitely a ‘woohoo’ app of the year.
    i ditched my RSS reader, just to use Reeder
    awesome app for Mac and iOS!

    thanks guys!

  • I have to disagree mostly.

    Yes it’s a beautiful app but the usability and UI design still has big flaws. Navigating feeds by remembering the site’s favicon is asking a bit much. A desktop app should be easier to customise to your way of working – from that comes speed, efficiency and user-orientated design. Reeder insists on too many things and doesn’t provide that flexibilty because it’s seemingly too busy looking at itself in the mirror and pouting (remind you of anyone?) ;)

    I can get more done, more quickly with Google Reader – that’s a web app, trumping a dedicated desktop app (i.e. Reeder still has a long way to go).

    • Just saw the comment above about resizing the column to get text aswell as just favicons. So, yes that feature is there but how many people did it trip up? Is that good design? Really?

      • yep.. i didn’t get that the first time as well.. the app icons are also confusing since there’s no tooltip whatsoever that tells users what they are. i have to click each buttons to figure out what they do..

        but all in all.. i have to say this is one great app. but until it can manage my subscription. i wont be ditching google reader anytime soon..

  • It doesn’t work for me. After logging in, nothing happen. The login credentials are correct because the Reeder downloads the RSS list from the Google Reader.

    However it seems like it doesn’t download the content of the RSS itself.

    I’ve made a screencast and emailed the developer about this, but they have not replied yet.

    Anyone has any idea for this problem? I really want this to work, i’ve fallen in love already with Reeder for iPhone, hard enough to ditch MobileRSS!

    • I have the same problem :(

      I like the overall concept of the app, but I’m not so sure about the usability. I’d love to navigate the feeds without clicking, with the same swiping used in iPhoto and I think the top set of 3 buttons should be draggable, it doesn’t make sense to click on that type of switcher.

      • It’s beta. In software development, that means “not ready for public usage.” It’s for a adventurous people to try it out, break things, and report bugs.

        If there’s something you don’t like, send a message to the developer and it might be fixed before the release version…

      • You can navigate feeds without clicking. It’s called try reading the keyboard shortcuts in the menus.

  • Great review! I absolutely love the app! Waiting for them to add the rest of the features like subscription management etc. Also an option to navigate in between the columns, by using the right/left arrows for example, would make a lot of sense to me. I cannot say anything more… It’s already my default RSS reader! :)

    • Growl notifications any time soon would be great as well! I forgot to mention that…

    • Good point – arrow navigation would be a fantastic addition.

  • Reeder is definitely an awesome app and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes but, I don’t particularly see this as iOS coming to the Mac. Just because Reeder was an iOS app first? I wouldn’t really consider it iOS coming to the Mac unless there was a way for OSX to run iOS apps natively or something. Like, if you could run an iOS app on the Dashboard or something. Otherwise, its basically just a port of the code, that’s all. We don’t consider Windows apps that finally get a Mac version too, ‘Windows coming to the Mac’. Why is this different?

    • Just look at the interface! Have you ever seen a Mac app that looks like that before? It’s different because it takes so many design and interface cues from the native iOS interface, and steps away from the design of a traditional Mac application.

      • I saw, Tweetie. And if counts, Sparrow. Plus, this app breaks a bunch of Apple’s UI rules (i.e. the textured grey bar at the top).

  • I wouldn’t say pre-fetching a webpage from a RSS feed is “insanely clever”. That technique has been around for years.

    • Hey Patrick – Out of interest, in which clients was it already present?

      • I’m not sure about RSS clients, but most major browsers do it (Safari, Chrome, etc).

  • Heads up guys, Draft 2 was just released today

  • Seeming you can’t wait for a redesigned Mail with iOS UI, you might wanna give Sparrow a try. It’s also beautifully designed and well executed although it still lacks some features. But I guess for now you have to get these pioneering developers in desktop UI some credit.

  • A “dynamic” toolbar is pretty nifty, but to say that, say newsnetwire presents “everything” all the time is hardly the case. It’s like ~10 controls/buttons in the main toolbar, presenting the most commonly used functionality to the user. “everything”, as you put it is hidden in the main menu. Still, with a “dynamic toolbar”, those ~10 controls could probably be used for something more appropriate i guess.
    Also, the day developers start skinning mac apps, i’m outta here. Some mac apps are skinned, but they still look fairly consistent (and share a common “look”), but when they start skinning stuff crazy like in windows (winamp, songbird, wmp and 3000 other “cool” looking utilities for the masses) – well, lets hope it never gets that bad. I don’t care if it looks good, apps should use native controls etc, so that i may apply a global look (or skin) at a toolkit level IMHO.

  • A brilliant read. Thank for the share.

    The thing that really captures my attention is the thought of how “pro apps” will adopt this “shift”. Apps like Photoshop have buttons and palettes *everywhere*. Even Pixelmator, the OS X-only version, still has palettes floating all over the place if you want to work at speed.

    I’m curious as to how these two worlds will collide. Very, very curious.

  • I’ve tried the Reeder beta and I find it interesting, but your comparison with NetNewsWire is completely unfair. Your screenshot of NNW shows folders expanded and a news item selected, while the screenshot of Reeder shows folders closed and no news item selected. It’s like taking a picture of one person who’s clothed and comparing it with another person who’s naked. Or a refrigerator that’s closed with a refrigerator that’s open and has an opened jar on one of the shelves.

  • Also, NNW has a “combined view” that is clean and usable. It’s unfair to compare Reeder to its old-fashioned list view.

  • Yay. Reeder for Mac is almost perfect. I just want it to have an option for using Emacs-like keybindings (say p/n instead of j/k).

    Weet for Mac rocks too, but the current beta is pretty buggy :( And I also like Sparrow.

  • Reeder is def. a new favorite of mine. I was fed up with other readers because it made reading the feeds feel very cluttered so I stuck to

    I love reeder on my iPad, so when I gave the Mac beta a shot and was blown away by the responsiveness and the minimalism. I don’t want extra information or power-user features, I want my feeds and I don’t want to get a headache while reading them.

    BTW, great post David.

  • 11/10 ;P

  • I’ve tried using NetNewsWire and other feed readers, but I always come back to Google Reader. Some people don’t like it, but I has worked for me. Greader mobile on iPhone however is really crappy. That of course led me to Reeder for iPhone. Since I have enjoyed Reeder so much on the iPhone, I jumped in without hesitating on Reeder for Mac Beta. So far I’m liking everything. If they add the G+U shortcut to pick a specific feed, I don’t see myself using Google Reader unless it’s to check the trends section.

  • You know what OSX really needs?

    -Alarm clock.
    -The green light actually maximizing your windows, or better yet, something like Divvy.
    -An App cleaner.
    -A paint application.
    -A useful chat client and not iChat.
    -More audio/video codecs.

    I know you can download 3rd party apps but isn’t the Mac supposed to bundle with everything a normal person would need? Or are they just false advertising?

    Other than that, OSX all the way. Hopefully they will include at least one of these things in Lion.

  • I got this on the first release day and I have to admit I was rather taken by the design and visuals more than the UX, but coming to Reeder from Feedly it was VERY underwhelming.

    Feedly is just too feature rich to start comparing reeder at this time, and for it to get any chance in staying on my mac any longer which is a shame as the visual look of reeder is possibly the best looking application out there in the RSS market.

    I’ll come back to it when it actually reaches a decent enough state to do stuff with rather than drool at it

  • take a look on Sparrow, it looks more ios

  • hey,
    i have wrote an article on one of the best mac apps in 2011 … hope it will find helpful for others…. thanks