Hey, you kids with your fancy Apple News and Flipboard apps: Get off my damn lawn! Back in my day, we had to manually seek out RSS feeds for each and every web favorite whenever we wanted to collect and organize Internet news into a single convenient location.
Whether you refer to it as “rich site summary” or “really simple syndication,” RSS suffered a setback in 2013 with the demise of its biggest proponent, Google Reader. That news sent the third-party client applications dependent upon it scrambling to come up with other reliable methods for syncing feeds across devices.
Although a number of services like Feedly stepped up to the plate over the last two years in Google’s absence, one of the original Mac news aggregator applications instead got caught with its pants down. After being shuffled to new owners three times over a six-year period before dropping entirely out of sight for two more, NetNewsWire resurfaced in open beta mere days before Google Reader took its final bow.
Flash-forward two more years, and NetNewsWire 4 is finally available for OS X and iOS. Eschewing its shareware and free “Lite” roots, these paid-only updates have been completely rewritten from the ground up for maximum performance with a fresh new look across both platforms. The result is a welcome return to form, despite the rebooted editions missing some of the niceties we’ve come to depend on from rival apps.
On Mac, NetNewsWire has adopted the familiar three-pane user interface made popular by Reeder and others, with list of news sources at left, feeds in the middle, and articles to the right. There’s also a fourth panel to view thumbnails for open browser tabs, which automatically comes and goes; this feature can optionally be switched to always-on from the Tab menu, and for now is exclusive to Mac.
The iOS app instead uses a row of five tabs across the bottom to switch between Sites, Unread, Today, Bookmarks, and Favorites views. That last one is strictly for frequently accessed sites, added by swiping left across the site name—a gesture also used to mark an entire source as read—or by dragging the desired site into the Favorites section on OS X.
Get in sync
Version 4.0 is particularly noteworthy for the debut of NetNewsWire Cloud Sync, a free (and completely optional) service used to sync added sites, bookmarks, read articles, and more across platforms. While this is a welcome and quite overdue new feature, it’s also a bit of a head-scratcher, since no other sync services are supported yet.
This decision means that new users will likely have to start completely from scratch by adding their favorite news sources. To help facilitate this, NetNewsWire now includes Popular Sites, a hand-picked selection of popular outlets from a variety of categories. Although many of my frequently-visited destinations can be found there, a great many others are missing entirely, including this very website. (Ahem.)
Thankfully, URLs that didn’t make the cut can be added by copying and pasting those web addresses when adding a new source. The downside is, many websites are not compatible with this method, but when all else fails, traditional RSS links work just fine. On the Mac, you’ll also have the option to import from OPML or the previous NetNewsWire 3, should it still be installed on your computer.
Light or dark
Seizing on the latest trend in news reader apps, both desktop and mobile flavors of NetNewsWire 4 offer support for light or dark themes, although the latter is somewhat tucked away on OS X, accessible via the Article > Style menu or a toggle switch in the font settings on the toolbar at top.
Speaking of fonts, size and style options only apply to the article itself—there are no view settings for the feed list, aside from how many lines (up to three) of an article can be previewed. The text in this list is a little small for my aging eyes, even on my 27-inch Thunderbolt Display; there’s also no support yet for Apple’s new default San Francisco font in OS X El Capitan and iOS 9.
Although these are solid updates and lay the groundwork for a bright future ahead, they feel a little underwhelming considering how long they’ve taken to arrive. On Mac, sharing is limited to a mere handful of services—email, Facebook, Twitter, App.net, and Instapaper—despite the iOS app taking advantage of Apple’s built-in share extensions. Although native iPad support didn’t make the cut for launch, Black Pixel rectified this quickly with the release of version 4.0.1, which also adds landscape viewing on iPhone 6 Plus, as well as 1Password integration for login and account creation.
NetNewsWire 4 makes a triumphant return on OS X and iOS, but the limited source and feed view options, as well as a mere handful of sharing services on Mac add up to a cautious recommendation for all but veteran users at the moment.