I’m a longtime user and supporter of Instapaper, including paying money for the Instapaper iOS app and buying a monthly subscription to it. But for a big chunk of 2013, since Instapaper creator Marco Arment sold it, I’ve actually been using Pocket, its free competitor.
About ten days ago, I switched back to Instapaper to see if Betaworks, its new owner, had introduced any new features that would compete with Pocket’s features.
Now I’ve seen enough and I’m ready to share what I think about each of the read-it-later services:
- Prettier text options. Marco put a lot of effort into offering beautiful display options to Instapaper users, and it shows. I love that I have excellent options for reading on Instapaper.
- Tilt scrolling. It’s perhaps a little gimmicky, but I’ve used it.
- Automatic dark mode. What this means is that I allow Instapaper to take my approximate location so it will know when sunset happens where I am. Then during the daytime, Instapaper shows text that’s black on a white background; at night it flips to text that’s white on a black background; in between, the text is black on a sepia background. This sounds lame, but as someone who loves to read at all hours and in bed when I’m supposed to be sleeping but actually kind of wish I was sleeping, I can’t praise this feature enough.
- Better batch editing/moving articles to folders.
- Costs money. This may seem like the opposite of a benefit, but I’m happy to pay a few dollars for a quality app, and $1/month for a subscription to it, in order to ensure that there’s a financial incentive for the developer to keep working on it and making it better. It doesn’t make me feel like any kind of partner to Marco or to Betaworks, but it aligns my interests as a customer with theirs as a business and disincents them from finding creepy or annoying ways to make money off of me.
- Video. It’s not ideal on Pocket, but it’s practically nonexistent on Instapaper. Some of the things I want to save for later and check out in a different venue / at a different time are videos. Some of the articles I read have videos in-line. I simply can’t figure out why Instapaper does such a shitty job, or refuses to do a better job, showing video content. For reference, here are two pages with video that I saved to Instapaper in the past few days: News report from 1981 about the Internet, This Video Will Forever Change The Way I Sleep. Neither worked in Instapaper. Both worked in Pocket.
- PDF. Similarly to videos, Pocket displays PDFs and Instapaper does not.
- Mac app. It completely baffles me that Instapaper has no native app for Mac. There are a lot of times when I want to read articles on a laptop, such as when I’m following instructions from an article and using them to do something on the computer. Pocket has a Mac app and it’s just like the Pocket website. It couldn’t have been difficult or expensive to develop.
- Unread article count. Pocket shows me a count of my unread articles in iOS. Instapaper doesn’t. This has got to be insanely easy to do, and it just makes no sense to me why Instapaper hasn’t done it. How am I supposed to know how many unread articles are even in my Instapaper account? What do they gain by concealing this super basic information from me?
Both Instapaper and Pocket are in IFTTT and this allows me to set up an easy push from one to the other. But the two don’t support mutual two way syncing, which I would really like to use. I’d keep Instapaper and Pocket in sync because I think they both have excellent strengths, like Instapaper’s dark mode and Pocket’s ability to display videos.
Both are supported by Flipboard, Feedly, Twitter for iOS and Chrome’s Defer extension. Both rather suck at getting articles saved from either Chrome or Safari on iOS.
Both have made the insane UX decision to place the button to archive an article right next to the button to favorite it. I read a lot of articles that express opinions with which I disagree vehemently and which I would not want to favorite, so every time I go to archive one of them, I have to be super careful not to press the button to favorite it.
It looks now like I’m actually going to switch back to Pocket, though I look forward to Betaworks building more features for Instapaper and, particularly, reaching feature parity with Pocket, which could certainly be done in the first half of 2014 with the right investments.
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