Marco Arment has done it again. The developer behind Instapaper Pro has taken the excellent newsreader application and made it even better.
It wouldn’t be quite right to say that Arment has improved on perfection. What he has done is refined simplicity, which is arguably the app’s main appeal. At the heart of Instapaper is the ability to download stories to the iPhone or iPod touch and read them anytime, anywhere, with or without a Wi-Fi connection or a cell phone signal. The app is ideal for reading long articles or blog posts.
Instapaper remains one the easiest-to-use iPhone apps I’ve encountered. After signing up for a free account at Instapaper’s Web site, simply add a “Read Later” bookmarklet to your Web browser and click it anytime you want to read an article later. Then when you launch the Instapaper app, the stories you saved will download automatically to your handheld. You can also open any story in Safari if you have an Internet connection.
Although the app’s first iteration was very good, Instapaper Pro ( ) had several notable shortcomings. Organizing stories was essentially impossible. The app didn’t handle RSS feeds. It didn’t support graphics.
With Instapaper 2.0 come several improvements, large and small. Most significant is the addition of folders, which resolves the problem of organization and makes Instapaper into more of an RSS reader. Feed junkies will find, however, that Instapaper is not a conventional RSS reader like Byline ( ) or Newsstand ( ), nor is it meant to be. Arment notes that Instapaper is “for light feed use.”
You can add feeds, which will update automatically when you launch the app at the same time your saved stories are downloading. You can also easily archive and file articles, although the developer cautions that the app “isn’t meant for permanent, long-term archival of everything you’ve ever wanted to read.” So warned, simply tap a button in the lower right hand corner of the screen, and then either tap the archive button or “move to folder.” The archive button moves a story out of your “read later” queue of current articles, while the “move to folder” will send a copy to the directory of your choice.
User preferences are also much improved in the 2.0 release. You can toggle the tilt-screen function from the unobtrusive toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Stories will either download automatically at start up and continuously in the background, or await your command. The auto-update feature allows you to read while the app works. You can turn screen rotation on and off. You can change the interface from light to dark for night reading with a couple of taps. And, of course, you can select among three typefaces with a range of sizes. I especially like that you can change the type style within each story.
Another nice addition is a folder labeled “Give Me Something To Read,” which imports stories that other Instapaper users have found interesting.
A note here about those “other users”—the app’s social networking component is still very much a work in progress. You can subscribe to other users’ starred items and let other readers recommend stories by tapping the “add” button in the upper left-corner of the app’s home screen. But you need to know those other readers’ usernames, which makes the feature essentially word of mouth. Arment says a directory is coming soon. Meantime, you can e-mail links, but you cannot share URLs on Twitter or Facebook.
As always, there’s a free version of Instapaper. It still lacks some of the features of the Pro version—Instapaper Free remains at version 1.3—but it’s a fine reader, which should encourage users to support the full app. When I first reviewed Instapaper last September, as impressed as I was, I wasn’t completely certain that users would appreciate the value of Instapaper Pro, especially at $10. Well, there should be no doubt now that Instapaper Pro 2.0 is worth every penny. And, as of this writing, Arment is selling the app for $5—a bargain at four times the price for this indispensable reader.
Both versions of Instapaper are compatible with any iPhone or iPod Touch running the iPhone 2.1 software update.
[Ben Boychuk is a columnist and freelance writer in Rialto, Calif. Feel free to e-mail him.]