Google Reader, the search giant’s news reading software, works quite well as a Web app, but sometimes a native app can provide features and integration that the browser just can’t. Gruml, a new desktop client for Google Reader, is currently in beta and it might someday fill this void for the Mac, as apps like Byline have done for the iPhone.
Gruml offers a familiar Mail-like news-reading interface, with a list of your feeds and groups on the left, headlines listed in the top pane, and article text displayed in the bottom pane. Even in its beta state, Gruml supports many of Google Reader’s appealing features, such as starring, “liking,” and sharing posts (with notes and tags), and reading headlines that friends share with you.
One of Gruml’s main selling points (and issues of contention in the beta) is that it keeps in constant contact with Google Reader. Read an article, mark it as shared, or add a note, and Gruml immediately reports that activity back to the mothership; there is no waiting for a specific period to sync or even a button for manually performing such an operation. Gruml also allows you to send a link of the headline that you’re currently reading to Twitter, though it does not yet support the other new social features that Google recently announced.
As nice as it is to be in constant contact with Google Reader, this is one feature where Gruml falters a bit in its current beta incarnation. It can sometimes take a little while to respond to certain operations like sharing a post or confirming that you published a note. Gruml also does not yet fulfill one of its most obvious potentials: acting as an offline client for Google Reader. It only downloads the most recent headlines for the currently selected feed or group; I was hoping it would do so for all of my feeds for long train rides or a plane flight.
Considering that Gruml faces some stiff competition from NetNewsWire, which recently gained Google Reader support, and Google Reader itself, its best bet will be to implement strong links with Mac OS X and other desktop or even Web apps. Links to email articles via Mail (or Gmail) or the ability to send them to storage apps like Yojimbo and Evernote would help a lot. Tying into other popular Mac Twitter clients like Twitterrific and Tweetie for sharing articles would provide even more value. Perhaps working with productivity apps like Things and OmniFocus would turn the heads of power users, who are sure to make up much of Gruml’s user base.
As a beta, Gruml offers some interesting features, though it clearly still has a ways to go. But competition in the desktop news-reading space is good for everyone and Gruml certainly looks to be a good option for Mac-slinging Google Reader users.