Friday, June 19, 2009

Byline – the better version of Google Reader Mobile

Once upon a time there were several excellent Windows feed readers. They’re all dead. We’ve got some good ones left for the OS X desktop, but there I’m very happy with Google Reader.

On the iPhone I’ve been using Google Reader Mobile. It’s pretty good, but it has some obvious and subtle flaws.

The subtle flaws have to do with the read/share/note/star workflow and the back and forth between the reader web app and web views of blogs.

The obvious flaw is that it’s dependent on my network connection and Safari performance. It’s useless on a plane and it can be slow even on my WiFi network.

I stuck with Google Reader for many months, but about two months ago I went to Phantom Fish’s Byline, an iPhone extension to Google Reader …

…. Simply use your free Google Reader account to subscribe to websites you’d like to keep track of. Byline will automatically bring you new content, putting thousands of RSS and Atom feeds at your fingertips.

When you read an item, it stays read. The same goes for the items you star: Byline will let Google Reader know the next time you have an internet connection….

… Even when you have no internet connection, Byline’s offline browsing feature gives you instant access to complete web pages.

Perfect for flights, subway journeys, and (if you’re an iPod Touch owner) those long dry spells between Wi-Fi zones…

It works beautifully. In addition to the marketing blurb above, I really appreciate the way Byline uses WebKit to display external web page views within the Byline context.

This is a superb piece of software. It’s fast, reliable, elegant, efficient, and it even manages the promised sync trick (a rare achievement). I move seamlessly between Google’s desktop web app and Byline.

I think I paid $5 to $10 for Byline but it’s worth more. It’s my most heavily used iPhone app. The one improvement I’d like is a a “read all” link at the top as well as the bottom of the scrolling list – but that’s a minor quibble.

The acid test? I showed it to someone who’s never used a true Feed Reader of any sort and it made her despise her BlackBerry Pearl more than ever.

Obviously, recommended.

Now, the extra credit question. Why does the iPhone have a superb “desktop” feed reader and Windows has none? I’ll hazard my answer in a future Gordon’s Notes opinion posting. Hint: Sometimes DRM is your friend.

Update 6/20/09: New version has been completely unstable for me on OS 3. Avoid updating if possible until a fix is out.

Update 7/24/09: They've tried to fix the bug I found over 3 releases, and they're only about 80% there. Byline only crashes if you group by feed, so I no longer do that. I wonder if the company lost the author of the app, and is now struggling to fix it. It's hard to reconcile their slow progress with the original quality of this app.

1 comment:

Faheem said...

Thanks for the tip. I picked it up based on your recommendation and I'm really loving it!