With the ever-increasing popularity of iPad apps such as Flipboard, and the impending decline of RSS, developers are becoming more and more aware that users want a new way to discover news online – Subscribing to feeds and trawling through thousands of stories is too time-consuming and isn’t a viable option in this modern world where time is everything. Users want to discover the news they want, and read it in an easy way.
This is where Mixtab comes in. Starting off as an iPad app, Mixtab has made the transition to Mac. Mixtab allows you to create tabs to browse news, based on what sort of news you’re looking for. There’s plenty of competition in this field, and I’m sure we’ll see even more in future years. So how does Mixtab compare? Read on to find out.
Mixtab is available only from the App Store, and, in a rare but much-appreciated move, it’s free. With the advent of the App Store, many small apps which we would normally find as a free download have gone commercial. Mixtab, however, is sticking to their guns and going free. If you’ve ever installed anything from the App Store before, you’ll know the drill – Hit that nice blue button, and it’ll pop into your dock.
Upon first opening Mixtab, you’ll be greeted with a log in/sign up screen. This is all quite straightforward – Simply enter an email and password to sign up. If you’ve used the iPad app before, you’ll already have an account, so you can sign in and retain all your tabs.
Interface & Usability
As I’ve previously mentioned, Mixtab started off as an iPad app, and the interface shows – With big buttons and no hover effects. Whilst Apple themselves are trying to bring iOS to the desktop, this is the extreme – It simply feels like the developers ported the app straight from iPad to Mac, without any thought about the differences in the platforms. In fact, I’ve used the iPad app, and it is identical. There’s not a single difference, apart from a different window size. Even features like preferences can only be accessed inside the app, with no support for the ever popular Command-Comma shortcut.
In terms of visuals, it’s by no means a horrible-looking app, with some nice shiny buttons. But quite frankly, it doesn’t feel like a Mac app – Mac apps have a native feel which we have come to love, and this doesn’t have it. You might find this refreshing or out of place depending on your devotion to the general Apple design practices.
There are 8 visual themes you can choose from in Mixtab. When I say “themes”, I mean “backgrounds”. The backgrounds are quite nice, but there is no support for adding your own background, which might be nice for those of us who like to customize.
Tabs are separate feeds, or collections of feeds, from which Mixtab gathers data. When you first open up Mixtab, you’ll have some default feeds – Cooking, Technology, Photography, etc. If you hit the “Edit” button, you can delete any tabs you don’t want. I couldn’t, however, find any way to move tabs around, which is a bit odd. If I want all my Mac tabs in the same place, all my Photography tabs in the same place, there’s no easy way to do that.
If you want a new tab, just hit the “Add Tab” button and you’ll be brought to the Tab Gallery, where there are a number of pre-made tabs you can use (the majority of them Apple-related). If you want your own tab, you can create tabs too. You can choose to create a tab based on a topic, where you enter a topic, or a number of topics, and it will locate stories about that topic. If you just want a single website’s feed, you can add a single RSS feed URL. If you’d rather quickly add a bunch of feeds, you can upload an OPML file, which can be exported from Google Reader.
You can browse through stories in their tabs, with 6 stories displayed stylishly per page. I’ve found that Mixtab will duplicate stories occasionally, however, and if you have a large tab, it will only gather 20 or 30 stories. This really isn’t great if you want to browse through lots of news.
If you want to actually read an article, click the article and it’ll be brought up in Mixtab, free of formatting, ads, just text and pictures. I’m all for a simplified reading experience, but when Mixtab gets rid of your headers and all formatting, it actually makes it harder to read. Links are supported, but don’t look any different from normal text, so there’s no way of telling something is a link. At the end of the day, reading on Mixtab is a bit of a pain, and worse than reading in-browser. Considering that this is an app designed for reading, that is poor form indeed.
With Lion just around the corner, more and more developers are likely to bring elements of iOS to the Mac. I’m fine with that – I’m a fan of gestures and big buttons. But if developers are going to take an iPad app and put it in Mac, pixel-for-pixel, as Mixtab developers have done, I’m very worried for the future of OS X. Mixtab is a perfectly decent app on the iPad, but it doesn’t translate very well to the Mac.
Perhaps this is simply a platform issue – maybe innovative news aggregators like this just work better on the iPad. Hopefully the developers will soon take the time to work through the awkwardness of a straight up iPad interface in OS X. With both Pulp and Reeder running at just under $10, Mixtab could easily carve a large niche for itself if the team behind it can pull together and fix the problems.
In the mean time, it is a completely free download populated with free content, so there’s really no reason not to try it and see what you think. Go give it a download and a comment below with your thoughts.