NetNewsWire first came out in 2002, and back then, it was the only application of its kind. RSS was just beginning to pick up steam, Google Reader wasn’t even conceived of yet, and most people got their news by visiting a series of bookmarks. Fast-forward to 2010, and the once unique NetNewsWire has started an entire genre of applications dedicated to consuming feeds. NetNewsWire now has three versions, the original OS X app, an iPhone app, and now an iPad app.
NetNewsWire is still the best OS X feed reader available for the Mac, but competition on iOS is stiff. Feed reading is arguably one of the primary uses of the iPad, so making a good RSS client for it very important.
Here’s a run-down of the top feed readers available now for the iPad.
Reeder is a beautifully crafted and well thought out piece of software. The buttons for moving to next and previous articles are in the perfect spot to use when holding the iPad in portrait mode, which is how I use it most of the time. In both landscape and portrait mode, if you tap on an article to go to the website, the browser doesn’t just take the place of the article, it takes the entire screen over using an animation so smooth that it seems absolutely natural. Initially, when reading reviews of Reeder I was dismissive of it, until I actually used it. Reeder has set the bar high for RSS readers on the iPad.
My previous favorite, NewsRack is solid, exactly what I expect; where Reeder is revolutionary, NewsRack is evolutionary. What I found about NewsRack was that it was best read in landscape mode, which would put the list of articles on the left, and was easier to access. In portrait mode, the controls for moving between articles are on the top, which makes for an awkward motion to move your hand, cover the screen, and tap the button to go back to holding it on the side again. Repeating that motion several hundred times makes it get annoying fast. NewsRack is fast, and has all of the features I use on a daily basis, so overall it’s a great app.
The Early Edition ($4.99)
Early Edition takes a different approach than most feed readers. The most common approach is to mimic the user interface of iPad’s Mail app in both landscape and portrait mode. Early Edition instead builds a personal newspaper from articles in your list of feeds. Reading on Early Edition is enjoyable, but unlike the other feed readers on the list, Early Edition does not sync with Google Reader.
Feeddler ($4.99 and Free)
Another strong contender, Feeddler comes in both a free and pro version. Feeddler places the navigation controls at the bottom of the screen in both landscape and portrait mode. Feeddler makes a few questionable design choices for displaying the content of feeds. Instead of showing the feeds in a pop-over window, Feeddler shows the feed sources, and then uses the entire iPad window to show the individual feed items. Tapping on an item slides up a new window from the bottom to show the feed content. This works well for portrait mode, but in landscape mode I expect to be able to use the extra screen space to split the screen and browse feeds on one side and content in the other. Feeddler uses the entire screen in both modes. Surprisingly, there is an option in the settings pane to disable using the full screen in landscape, but instead of using only the right hand pane, it shows a smaller window that overlaps the feeds…effectively taking up the entire screen anyway.
The first RSS app on the desktop was also the first RSS app on the iPad. NetNewsWire for the iPad was available on day one, syncs with Google Reader, and integrates with Instapaper and Twitter. The windows for sending an article to either service are gorgeous works of art, and show the kind of attention to detail that NetNewsWire is known for.
Honorable Mention: Google Reader
Google Reader is the standard for web-based feed readers, leapfrogging Bloglines several years ago. Google has created a mobile version of Reader that works well as a web app on the home screen of the iPad. Google even gave it a nice icon. It works well as far as web apps go, but I still prefer native apps with better integration.
There are several other RSS readers available in the App Store, and chances are we may not have mentioned your favorite here. If you’ve got more recommendations, share them in the comments!