MobileRSS: Getting Back to Basics

It seems like there’s been an influx of RSS reader reviews here on AppStorm recently.  With great new (and sometimes novel) readers like Pulp or Reeder, we can’t help but get excited about them.  However, every now and then an RSS app comes out that doesn’t dabble with novel formats or unique interfaces.  They set out to achieve the simple goal of utility, and do it well.

MobileRSS is a Google Reader client that has long been popular on iOS devices, and now comes to Mac.  How does the desktop version hold up?

Interface

While I mentioned that MobileRSS doesn’t try to reinvent the way we read our news with novel interface features, I won’t hesitate to say that it does look damn good.  The interface is graphically sharp and uses great color contrast between the feeds and the viewer in the three-pane layout.  This layout choice makes using MobileRSS feel a little like using the iPad iteration of the same app (which was a joy to use, in my opinion). 

Unfortunately, we can all tell instantly that the interface isn’t exactly groundbreaking. This appears to be another in the long line of recent Reeder clones.

The MobileRSS interface is clean and organized, but a little too familiar.

MobileRSS does a great job of incorporating all of the standard Google Reader features.  The sidebar gives access to your feeds, your home list (with all of your noted, shared, liked, and starred content), and a list of feeds from people you follow.  The buttons in the upper right corner are article-contextual, and allow you to keep an item as unread, “like” the current article, star the article, or share it to your followers.  The last button gives you access to connected services, allowing you to share content via Twitter, Delicious, or any number of other services, as well as opening an article in your browser.

Share content with the Google Reader buttons and the Send To... button.

My only interface-related problem with these buttons is that hovering over them doesn’t reveal tool-tips, which can be confusing to people new to Google Reader.

Usability/Functionality

In addition to all of the social and sharing functionality that accompanies Google Reader, MobileRSS includes a few handy readability features.  Similar to the Magic Reader in Pulp or the Readability feature in Reeder, MobileRSS allows you to set per-feed preferences on downloading full content for feeds that only publish summaries by default.  The “Download Full Post” button can be used to download a single post on the spot, then allowing you to switch between the full post and the summary.  The default preference, however, can be set in the Preferences window, forcing that feed to download full posts for all future articles.

Download the full content of a post, or change the layout view.

The display layout buttons on the right side of the bottom toolbar switch between list view and image view.  I found this to be pretty neat in theory, but image view seems to have some inconsistency when pulling images from posts (I’m no programmer, so I concede that the Google Reader API may share some of the blame for this).

The image layout view.

The image view layout changes the way that you move between articles, eliminating the  list pane and allowing you to move directly to another article from the same feed.

Viewing a post in image layout.

MobileRSS will also keep track of several Google Reader accounts.  The Preferences window provides access to account management, as well as allowing you to set an update schedule, full-post download preferences, whether or not to display the Unread Count badge on the dock icon, and a global shortcut for showing/hiding MobileRSS.  I find that most of the applications I use in my daily workflow are accessed via global hotkeys (Quicksilver, The Hit List, Twitterrific…) and it’s definitely helpful to have this feature built in.  Finally, the Services pane of the Preferences window allows you to configure all of your outlets for sharing content.

General settings

Conclusion

Aside from a few minor performance issues, I found MobileRSS for Mac to be a rock solid aggregator without all the bells and whistles of more novel readers.  The interface is clean and to-the-point.  While I certainly love the format readers like Pulp,  I found that simpler reader like MobileRSS did wonders for my productivity. 

In the end though, there’s a discussion to be had about where to draw the line with borrowing interface ideas. Reeder itself is extremely similar in many respects to Twitter for Mac but was at least fairly unique among RSS clients. Now we’re seeing RSS apps like this one picking up both Reeder’s form and function on a daily basis. It would definitely be nice to see some more unique entrants into this arena.


Summary

A powerful yet to-the-point Google Reader client that strays a little too close to being a mere clone.

6
  • Sysscore

    I’m a Pulp user. It looks nice but its only useful for a small set of news provider. MobileRSS could be an interesting alternative or additional app.

  • Guy

    You might also want to check out http://l.ginkapps.com/splitscreenapp

    It allows you to snap your windows to the left / right of the desktop. Can be super useful when trying to read 2 news articles at the same time.

  • http://dougneiner.com Doug Neiner

    However, this is yet another almost complete interface rip from Reeder for Mac. Is there no shame in software development? There is sometimes a fine line between inspiration and theft – and this just feels like it crossed that line.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Have you noticed how much Reeder, Sparrow and others have borrowed from Loren Brichter’s Tweetie/Twitter for Mac? Be careful about defending an app as ultimately unique when it too has stood on the shoulders of others.

      • http://andrewgormley.com Andrew Gormley

        I can’t speak directly for Reeder, but the developers of Sparrow said early on that they actually asked Loren for permission to use that layout for their email program and not only did he approve, but he acted in an advisory capacity for them as noted on their company page: http://sparrowmailapp.com/company.php

        This program not only looks exactly like Reeder but also performs the same exact function as it. Shameless.

      • http://www.twitter.com/gwardwell Greg Wardwell

        I agree with Sparrow looking like Tweetie/twitter, but how exactly has Reeder borrowed from Tweetie? From where I’m standing, they look nothing alike.

      • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson
      • http://mcgvr.com BJ

        Loren Brichter, creator of Tweetie, is actually on the advisory team for Sparrow. http://cl.ly/9JHk

  • Brian

    If I was an editor for appstorm, there is no way I could write this review in good conscience. Jesus, what a rip off from Reeder. This is absolutely pathetic.

  • NeosinneR

    +1 for Doug and Brian, it’s just a rip-off

  • Brendan

    A complete and utter shameless rip of Reeder, which I have been using since it’s beta days.

    Also, there are other adjectives available other than ‘novel’.

  • http://mcgvr.com BJ

    How can you write a review of this in good conscience? It is such a shameful ripoff of Reeder. It’s sad that you would even give it the time of day.

    • Scott Danielson

      To back up everything Josh has said, when did we start hating on designers that incorporated good ideas into their designs? Is there as much bile toward the second OS X app that used iOS elements in it’s design? Or the second app that had a menu bar icon?

      I think that building on other’s ideas is an important part of art (and by extension, designing an app’s UI). I don’t think that this should be considered a “crime” at all, and in fact should be encouraged.

      We all have a favorite app that we think would be better if it incorporated part of another app’s UI. This is no different.

      • http://www.twitter.com/niels_k Niels K.

        But there is a difference between incorporating part’s of UI-choices as a basic for ideas and ripping of more or less the whole UI.

        • dorian_grey

          “I think that building on other’s ideas is an important part of art (and by extension, designing an app’s UI). I don’t think that this should be considered a “crime” at all, and in fact should be encouraged.”

          As long as developers don’t forget to implement their own “art”, you are right. However considering the fact, that this company has a long lasting history of ripping off other’s ideas and apps, MobileRSS for Mac must not be considered isolated.

          MobileRSS for iPhone “borrowed” _heavily_ from the back then best iPhone apps and MobileRSS for iPad blatantly ripped-off Reeder for iPad. After the shitstorm that followed they decided to drop their Reeder-version, but instead of developing their own app they just incorporated the ideas from Reeder for iPad in the design of Twitter for iPad.

          So no, in this case they are not building upon other ideas and integrating them with their own concepts, but blatantly and deliberatly stealing other ideas. And yes, this should be considered a crime.

  • http://www.brizk.com Kai

    Holy cow, how dare they???? And you review it too?

  • http://dribble.com/conor Conor O’Driscoll

    I’ll probably be shot down right away for this, but isn’t consistency across Mac apps essentially a good thing? That’s one major feature that makes OS X the best OS out there – If I install a new app I’ve never used in my life, I will know exactly how to use it straight away, as the interface is very much the same as other apps I’ve used. If I wanted all of my apps to look completely different, I’d be using Windows.

    There’s a thin line between inspiration and copying, but I personally think MobileRSS is fine – Sure, the interface layout is similar, but the textures, the icons, the features are different enough for it to work as a standalone app.

    All app genres have a certain layout that works best for them: Postbox has a similar layout to Mail, Pages looks a bit like Word, and Spotify has an interface quite like Miro. There’s only so many ways you can layout an RSS reader – Why should MobileRSS try and reinvent the wheel?

    • Caio Bianchi

      Agreed in part.
      That holds true for all the version before Lion. In Lion, Apple designed its native apps differently, you can check out “Address Book” and iCal for instance. I’m keeping an iOS style consistency myself, using Chrome + Sparrow + Reeder.

    • Scott Danielson

      I totally agree with you, Conor.

    • http://dotdotpixel.com ujitso

      Not sure if that’s a valid point in this case – as Reeder doesn’t really follow the “traditional” Mac OS application conventions, interface-wise. I can imagine someone less savvy who’s only been using few default apps like the old Mail and iTunes and such, could easily get lost in the slightly deviant magnificence of Reeder: “GOSH, WHERE DID MY SOURCE LIST GO?”

      (But again, not sure if “someone less savvy” would use RSS / Google Reader. Hmm.)

      What I personally don’t like if people are trying to make money on someone else’s handiwork – and heck if the developer of Reeder didn’t put a lot of thought and man-hours into creating and refining the interface of his app, even if it was inspired by Tweetie.
      And nope, copy-pasting is not work. At least I hope. Because then someone’s been forgetting to send me my paychecks all these years.

  • Anonymous

    how much did they pay you to publish this article? what a shameless software. no wonder the industry is running out of ideas, it’s easier to rip-off one’s idea.

  • http://www.thegraphicmac.com James

    Ohhhh the drama! Look, Reeder aint exactly unique either. What, do you think they invented columns of info? ;)

  • http://www.daisydisk.com Taras Brizitsky

    This is a blatant Reeder rip-off.

    Patterns are patterns, but let’s face the facts: there’s a CLEAR difference between theft and inspiration. This IS theft. What’s especially interesting is that the same company has already ripped off a mobile version of Reeder.

    Changing rating from 8 to 6 is merely a good idea. Face the facts: the community doesn’t like copycats and talentless idiots who try to benefit from others’ hard work.

    Taras Brizitsky, DaisyDisk Team designer.

    • Scott Danielson

      If you’re referring to iPhone versions, I’m *almost* certain that MobileRSS for iPhone was available long before Reeder for iPhone. Can’t find the original release dates, but the first iTunes reviews of MobileRSS seem to predate those of Reeder by more than year.

  • http://ernestodiniz.com Ernesto Diniz

    Reeder ripoff! I used to have Reeder and MobileRSS on my iPad, but after the smart ass move, I simply erased MobileRSS from my view. I understand good ideas are replicated and enhanced, but in this case it is an astonishing shame.

  • Daniel

    I recently found the best ever Google RSS reader for iPad: Mr. Reader.

    It is absolutely awesome. Seriously, you should try it. There isn’t enough space here for me to write about all the features.

    And I believe you can also use it as a standalone feed reader if you don’t use Google Reader.

  • Dmitri

    Did anyone ever tried the “Download full post” button REFUSING the automatical posts downloading which is proposed by the button? Did the author tried the button? It DOES NOT WORK at all, in neither version of Mobile RSS (SD\HD, Free\Paid)! And it seems like it never worked since it was anounced (at least 6 months until now). And another problem with it is that when full posts are downloaded (automatically of course) many pictures are lost (“?” shown instead of pics) – even those shown in the Summary view! What a great software, I say! Still haven’t found a better viewer. Let’s try Mr.Reeder…

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