In the five hundred years following Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the first practical printing press in 1447, the methods through which people have received and digested news saw little change. The story of man has been chronicled by newspapers for generations and the tangible product of paper and ink faithfully recorded revolutions, inventions, tragedies, and triumphs for countless people.
Fast-forward to a mature Internet age and things are most definitely different. Newspapers still have an important place in society, but the patience required for reading each page is slowly dwindling, in favor of news as it happens. The continued adoption of the Internet as a medium of reporting has made the press more free than ever before, but the trade-off has been a perceived loss of quality in the reading experience. Pulp aims to change this by delivering an RSS App that combines the pleasing user experience of Gutenberg’s venerable creation with the speed, portability, and breadth of content only available in the Internet age.
First impressions are important and Pulp clearly understands this, as it has an icon and sign-up screen that are clear, concise, and in-keeping with what one expects from a high quality Mac App. Getting up and running is very simple. You will need to create a quick (and free) Pulp Sync account first, but all that’s required is an email address and password.
The App itself is very attractive and the layout is split into three scrolling columns which can be added to, deleted, and adjusted in width, according to taste. There is a selection of pre-loaded feeds which are organized into four categories – Technology, Science, Arts & Entertainment, and Lifestyle – though most users will probably wish to add their own. I did this manually and found it to be less laborious than I had first assumed, thanks in part to an effective keyword input which seeks out desired feeds, e.g. typing ‘Guardian’ brought up each of the newspaper’s available feeds, such as Sport, World News, etc.
The Mac version of Pulp synchronizes fully with its iPad counterpart using Pulp Sync. In this way, changes are even pushed to the iPad so no refresh is required. Unfortunately, Pulp is unable to sync with Google Reader at present. According to Acrylic Software’s FAQ, this is due to both Google Reader’s lack of public API and Pulp’s own incompatible data model. For these reasons, it seems support is unlikely to be added in the near future. This is but a small gripe for me, but it could potentially be a deal breaker for those users who are tied to the service.
Pulp also has the ability to import feeds from Google Reader, Safari, Mail, and OPML files. In addition to emailing a link, Pulp can share articles to Instapaper, Readability, Read It Later, Twitter, and Facebook.
Once feeds are imported, categories decided, and settings adjusted, the day to day use of Pulp is a pleasure. This elegant App makes full use of screen space, with unobtrusive buttons providing easy navigation and access to preferences.
I rarely needed to click any button more than once to adjust a setting or use a feature, and as an enthusiast of minimal, distraction-free writing Apps, I appreciated the uncluttered, minimalist layout which brings to focus the desired article with a click. Indeed, the interface promotes undisturbed reading so successfully that normal Internet browsing in Firefox seemed positively clunky and distracting in comparison.
Despite the fact that I have just recently begun to use Pulp, I was surprised to see my browsing habits already changing. I now spend less time casually scanning websites in favor of consuming news and blogs in Pulp. I did experience a handful of minor crashes (App closing, no beach ball, or freezing of the Mac) while testing Pulp over the last few days, but these were too infrequent to prove any significant stability issues conclusively.
On the Shelf
Pulp’s method of saving articles for later reading is characteristically neat. In order to do so, a click of the square button reveals the ‘Shelf’ – a hidden toolbar which stores articles with a drag-and-drop or another click of the + button. Each piece is given a thumbnail representation which reacts well and provides a heading when it is hovered over with a cursor.
Just Like Magic
It is an annoyance when an RSS feed shows just a couple of opening lines, requiring the reader to leave the App in order to read the article fully (as with BBC News). Pulp seeks to remedy this with its Magic Reader feature. A click of the magic wand button will deliver the text, transplanted in full, to Pulp’s immersive scrolling display.
I tested Magic Reader using various feeds and it worked quickly and very well each time, even on a poor Internet connection.
There are already many choices open to RSS enthusiasts with strong apps such as NetNewsWire and Reeder. Where Pulp sets itself apart from the competition however, is in the outstanding implementation of its streamlined features and a novel user interface that provides a user experience that is unmatched within its field.
Perhaps the only thing missing is an iPhone/iPod version, but the fact that Acrylic Software hasn’t rushed out a small-screen port may suggest that the iPhone and iPod have screens that are too small to allow it to work perfectly. Still, correspondence with the developers suggests that the possibility may be explored in the future.
Providing you can live without the ability to synchronize Pulp with Google Reader, the reasonable price of $9.99 (a 7 day trial is available from the Acrylic Software website), clever features, and pleasing interface may well change your news reading experience for the better. It certainly did so for me.