RSS — “Really Simple Syndication”. It’s the Web’s answer to staying up to date. There are a myriad of RSS readers out there, from native apps for nearly every platform imaginable, to web apps that promise cross-platform synchronization and consistent UIs. Today we’re going to look at an app that promises the best of both worlds — native and web.
If you’re familiar with the hip web scene, you’ve probably heard of Shaun Inman. He’s the guy behind Mint, pioneered sIFR, and recently started development on an epic iOS platform game called Mimeo. He also created a unique solution to the RSS Reader conundrum — Fever.
But today’s article isn’t about Fever. Fever is a web app, and you can read a nice review of it on our sister site Web.AppStorm. This is a review of the app Chill Pill for the Mac — a Cocoa-based Fever experience. Read on to see how it leverages OS X to heighten the Fever experience.
Chill Pill’s Purpose
Chill Pill is designed as a native app version for Mac OS X of the web app Fever. The developers sum things up quite nicely on the Chill Pill site:
Chill Pill allows you to enjoy Fever’s rich RSS experience while taking advantage of Cocoa and all of the other modern technologies in Mac OS X.
That’s a common goal, translating a web experience into one native to a certain platform. It’s been done with Google Reader in apps like Gruml and Reeder for OS X. But when that happens, you become stuck between two UI designs. Do you retain the conventions of the web app? Or do you switch to one more at home in the desktop environment?
In my opinion, you should utilize the native platform you’re building on to the full. Native apps have advantages that the web can only dream of at this point. And that creates a niche for your app to live in.
Chill Pill can be found in the Mac App Store for $1.99. Right there are two important features.
The Mac App Store is the hottest place to buy software right now. It’s got the weight of Apple behind it, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Being on there is an important feature for new Mac apps today.
The $1.99 price is also a feature. While some may look at that as a worrying sign of downward pricing trends in the App Store, I see a different reason for it. Chill Pill adds an additional $2 price tag to Fever. Fever costs $30 alone.
Already that’s twice NetNewsWire, one of the most popular Mac RSS readers. Chill Pill knows that it has to hit impulse purchase price, and I think it has.
From the outset, there aren’t a ton of obvious features that Chill Pill offers, beyond Fever itself. Across the bottom of the screen is a toolbar of sorts. In the left hand corner are three buttons — add, remove, and settings. In the right hand corner is a search box.
While the add feed and remove feed buttons are new additions to Fever’s feature set, the settings and search are prominent features of Fever’s current UI, and are still in the main Fever area of Chill Pill.
It seems to me that if they want to be “taking advantage of Cocoa and all of the other modern technologies in Mac OS X,” then they would be replacing Fever’s features — or at least their UI — with their Cocoa counterparts, rather than duplicating functionality.
If there’s a way to access Settings through Chill Pill that is superior to the way Fever natively does it, then why leave Fever’s way intact?
So, on the surface, Chill Pill doesn’t seem to add much to the Fever experience. But cracking open the Preferences gives us some more to play with. You can set Chill Pill to open articles in their built-in article viewer, a Webkit-based in-app browser which is nice.
You can set Chill Pill to display a Growl notification when new items appear, and Chill Pill also offers the ability to apply custom user stylesheets to Fever. They say you can customize it however you want.
See, this begs the question to me, if they have this kind of control, why don’t the utilize it to customize Fever themselves, removing that duplicated functionality I mentioned earlier?
Where To Grow
Ok, so maybe I’ve been a little harsh on Chill Pill. But, everything I’ve said has been in good spirit. Desktop clients to web services really need to justify their existence if they’re going to take off.
Look at the Twitter client market: Twitterific’s UI keeps people coming back, TweetDeck’s power and customization draw people to it. If Chill Pill wants to succeed, it has to really do what it claims, leveraging all the modern technologies of Mac OS X.
They’ve started. Growl integration is nice. Custom stylesheets are cool too, especially for the clientele of such an app. But there’s so much room to grow.
Chill Pill needs to take a look at Fever’s weak points and strengthen them, while making its brightest features shine even more. Fever’s built on a unique concept of grabbing the “temperature” of the news you’re interested in. That is — and rightly should be — the first thing you see when you crack open Chill Pill.
But once you move past “What’s Hot”, the experience of reading individual blogs could be better. Perhaps they could take that as an opportunity.
I think the biggest thing Chill Pill needs to do is expand the Cocoa integration of the app. Rather than layering on some buttons at the bottom of Fever’s current UI, they need to make more of the UI Mac-like.
Create a better navigation area for starters. Turn as much as they can from web technologies into Cocoa UI elements. If they can present an even better UI than Fever’s original, then they’ll justify their reason for being here. And they’ll win themselves a lot of fans.
The bottom line here is — I do like Chill Pill. I think for anyone who uses Fever on a regular basis, it’s a steal at $1.99.
The basic feature set that it currently sports isn’t enough to entice a wide enough array of customers though. If they come back with a strong update that integrates Cocoa UI elements and features into it, they could take the Fever community by storm and carve themselves a well-earned niche.