App Review – Unread for iOS

Last week, Jared Sinclair released Unread [iTunes], a brand new RSS reading app for the iPhone & iPod. After just a mere ½ day of use, it dethroned my RSS reader of choice that’s been stationed on my home screen for years: Reeder [iTunes].

Unread's article view.
Unread’s article view.

Unread has as many philosophical ideas in line with prior king of RSS Reeder as it has different. Fundamentally, both apps have a very strong identity that many would label “opinionated software.” Each eschews bloat to deliver a focused experience that is largely rooted in what the developers idea of how a particular task should be achieved. The primary difference between Unread and Reeder is the idea of how you should interact with your feeds; Reeder gives you the tools to quickly parse a large list, marking things as read or sending them off to a supplementary service with just a swipe, while Unread embraces an idea that you should be subscribing to RSS feeds that you actually want to read.

RSS predated things like Facebook and Twitter and for a long while, RSS was the only way to subscribe to content updates from a site. As time has gone on, though, better tools have come along, in particular for high-volume sites.

Unread posits that you should leave your noisy, high-volume feed to things like Twitter and leave RSS to a hand-picked selection of feeds from authors & sites that you want to read. That idea is weaved into the fabric of everything the app does and it really shows; it got me to offload some feeds that I spend far too much time hitting the Mark as Read button on to Twitter, leaving me with a cleaner feed that I interact with more and spend less time on busywork.

The app is entirely gesture-driven and is a joy to use. Smart animations are all over the place and embody the entire package with a sense of character which is an impressive feat given that the interface itself – clean with ample white space – could easily become boringly generic. In general you swipe to the left to go back and to the right to open up a side panel of context-relative actions. It’s very smooth and nothing is ever too far away.

Unread's right side panel (dark theme enabled).
Unread’s right side panel (dark theme enabled).

Articles can be opened in a browser easily, and Unread does something a little different by making the browser the “other half” of the app: it’s entirely persistent and maintains a history of sites visited. Any page viewed in the browser can also be opened in a Readability web view. A quick swipe to the right at the bottom of the browser takes you back to your articles, and it’s possible to return to the browser from multiple areas of the app.

Articles in Unread are set in Whitney by HF&J which is a beautiful sans-serif that breathes well and is very readable at smaller sizes. Articles are presented full screen with no status bar or toolbars, although you can turn on the status bar through a toggle in the settings menu. Two reading themes are available – a dark on light theme and a light on dark theme – with several more ready to be unlocked if you can find the right easter egg to make it happen. The application looks gorgeous and provides an environment that encourages you to read.

One other thing I feel like mentioning is that Unread has the best implementation of iOS 7’s ability to update in the background. Over the past few days, I have never once opened it up without it already having all my articles already loaded. Seriously, it’s super impressive.

All in all I’m very happy with Unread. There are a few things I’d like to see that would make me happier with it, but I can respect that Jared is envisioning a very particular use for RSS. Regardless, I’d love to see:

  • A serif font option
  • Integration with the Readability API to fetch full article content and displaying it right in the article view instead of being shunted off to a web browser and using the Readability web view.
  • The ability to hide read items in the “Unread” list. A menu option seems to be on it’s way, but I do think it’s very smart how Reeder clears read items in the “Unread” view when you refresh.
  • Truthfully, Jared has made such a wonderful reading environment, I’d love to see full integration with Readability and Pocket so I can just access my saved articles right within Unread.
  • Sometimes it seems like I have to swipe just a liiiiitle bit further than it feels I should have to in order to open up the right-hand side panel. That could just be some oddity with my phone though (which is a little beaten up).

Unread is an impressive 1.0 application and easily one of the absolute best RSS applications out there for iOS. It decidedly does not contain the kitchen sink, but everything that is there has a place and purpose. A lot of small decisions add up to produce a wonderful user experience that is unmatched by any RSS reader on iOS. With a clear vision of what it wants to be, Unread will help you get your feeds under control and give you a great space to read in. Proof? Since installing Unread, I’ve spent less time on RSS but read more. If whether you subscribe to 2 feeds or 200, I highly recommend you check out what Unread has to offer.

Unread is currently $2.99 on iTunes.