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A Leap Forward In iPad Reading That’s Gorgeous, But Unfinished On Purpose

The iOS version of Readability’s popular web app is lean on features, but still makes your reading list look luscious.

A Leap Forward In iPad Reading That’s Gorgeous, But Unfinished On Purpose

You may be familiar with Readability, a popular web app that sucks text content out of uglified web pages and re-presents it in a calm, clean design optimized for, y’know, reading stuff. Readability’s open-source code has been adopted by Safari, Apple’s browser, as well as many other apps and services. But the service has conspicuously lacked an app of its own. Until now: Readability for iOS has finally arrived. And it’s a thing of beauty.

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Like Instapaper, the O.G. of easy-on-the-eyes “read later” apps, Readability lets you queue articles you find on the web into a “Reading List” that you can browse offline, on the comfort of your iPhone or iPad screen. Readability’s trademark burgundy-and-beige color scheme greets you upon starting up the app, presenting your saved articles in a warm, velvety, but never fussy interface that all but begs to be curled up with under a blanket with a cup of tea.

In Readability, the Reading List is all. There’s no fancy welcome animation or tutorial screen–appropriately, a brief article on using the app is placed at the top of your queue–and settings widgets are often tucked away behind a sliding drawer (tap the screen to reveal it while reading an article) or simple tile (swipe any headline to the right to reveal a handful of buttons for archiving, favoriting, and the like).

Click to zoom.

That’s not to say there aren’t settings that let you customize your Readability experience to your heart’s content. You can choose from a menu of handsome, top-shelf typefaces by Hoefler and Frere-Jones; you can toggle between daylight and night reading modes; and, of course, adjust the type size and column width to comfortable levels. Teehan+Lax, the firm that designed and built the Readability app, also baked in some subtle but very smart interaction elements–like swiping to the left in an article to reveal (or just peek at) your reading list, or swiping up from the bottom of an article you’ve just finished to bring up the next one in your queue.

Still, basic features like pagination (an Instapaper mainstay) and curated “what to read next” lists (courtesy of partner sites like Longform.org) are conspicuously absent from Readability. Richard Ziade, a Founding Partner at Readability, told me that this is on purpose: “Our goal was to keep it as simple as possible this first go-round and then listen to the feedback that comes in.” Unlike Instapaper, Readability was conceived as a platform rather than a standalone product–a laboratory for “researching, exploring, and learning about these radical shifts in reading behavior that are still changing today, and putting [those ideas] into action,” according to Ziade.

In other words, what might seem spare or unfinished is actually just part of the Readability roadmap. “To date Readability has been all about consumption, but we’ve got lots of ideas around creation, curation, and discovery around reading,” Ziade says. “We’ve got some incredibly exciting things lined up for release soon that build on this. For example, we collaborated with the Arc90 Lab to build tools that bridge the gap between content on the web and publishing standards like ePub.” Their intriguing subscription model–in which a percentage of subscription fees are distributed back to publishers and content creators–is still going strong. And even better, Readability will soon be launching an Android version of its app, finally offering an alternative to the substandard Instapaper knockoffs that litter the Android Market.

For now, though, Readability gives iOS users a beautiful, library-like place to store their online reading material for later. That subtly aromatic “old book smell” isn’t yet possible to achieve in an app, but Readability might be the next best thing.

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About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.

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