Instapaper and Safari's Reading List

Jeff LaMarche wrote an interesting (and very entertaining) article about being a developer for iOS vs other platforms. The piece is in response to an article by Jeff Atwood at Coding Horror where he argues that third party developers in the Apple ecosystem "serve at the pleasure of the king".

The example Jeff Atwood uses to illustrate his point is Instapaper.

The essence is that Apple basically took (or stole) the idea of a successful app and built the same functionality into their software with the new Reading List feature in Safari. Thus, screwing Marco Arment, the Instapaper developer.

It's a valid point, but I think it's flawed for a couple of reasons.

First, Apple may have had that feature planned for a while now. Maybe even before Instapaper even existed.

Apple, like most successful businesses, has a roadmap for their products and services and they don't launch everything on the list in one go. Who knows what they're working on now, but I'd be willing to bet it's something amazing we can't even imagine today. They're probably already working on the iPhone 6 and we, the consumers, will be amazed at the iPhone 5 whenever it comes out. That's just how things work.

This is one of the reasons publishers and movie studios don't accept unsolicited scripts. If they do, they run the risk of someone sending a screenplay for a movie that is too similar to one they're working on. Imagine the lawsuits.

Second, and most importantly, I agree with Marco that Safari's Reading List could increase his business instead of hurting it.

Yes, at its core Safari's Reading List does the same thing Instapaper does. It allows you to save web pages to read later and keeps them in sync across your devices. For many, that's all they need and Reading List will suffice. But I don't believe those people are or would have ever been Instapaper customers.

As Marco said, Instapaper is "like Safari's Reading List, but better, in these ways", and those ways are what will keep Instapaper users, like myself, loyal to the service and will no doubt bring in new users once they outgrow Safari's Reading List.

The key for Marco is to explain the ways Instapaper is better.

I'm sure there are many, but the ones that make Instapaper so much better than Safari's Reading List for me are:

  • Integration with other apps: Pretty much every iOS app where you'll find stuff to read has "Save to Instapaper" links. I can be reading in Reeder, Twitter, Flipboard, The Early Edition, etc. and just tap a button to send the article to my Instapaper queue. Safari's Reading List saves stuff you find in Safari only (as far as I know).

  • Email straight to Instapaper: If I happen to be reading something somewhere that doesn't have the above link, I can just email the article to my account and viola, like magic it goes into my queue. I've done this a few times when a friend shows me something in their iPad or iPhone. All I need to do is ask them to email it to me.

  • Browser agnostic: Even though I use Safari 90% of the time, every now and then I use Google Chrome when I need to see something that requires Adobe Flash. If I find something I want to read later while browsing in Chrome, saving to Instapaper is just a click away. Safari's Reading List works only in, well, Safari.

  • The reading experience itself: Instapaper is beautiful. It's obvious Marco has spent a great deal of time obsessing over every single detail. Instapaper 4, just released a few days ago, is superb. It's a joy to read in Instapaper. This alone will be enough to convince anybody that truly enjoys reading that Instapaper is so much better than Safari's Reading List.

If all you want is a better bookmarking feature that keeps links for you to read later, then Safari's Reading List is enough. If you want more, check out Instapaper. I'm sure you'll become a fan.

And this is what I think (and hope) will happen. A bunch of people that have never heard of Instapaper will start using Safari's Reading List, they'll love it, and some of them will realise they need more and buy Instapaper.

Only time will tell, but maybe "the king" actually helped "the merchant" by introducing a relatively unknown service to all its citizens.

UPDATE: Just to add 2 more things that I enjoy greatly about Instapaper that I didn't mention: The ability to create a task in OmniFocus directly from the app and the fact that I have a queue of interesting things to read (curated by myself) even while offline. Today I stopped at a car dealership to get an oil top up. It took only 15 minutes, but the service bay is underneath the dealership with limited mobile reception. The iPhone had no signal and actually said SOS Only. I spent the 15 minutes reading Instapaper not missing 3G or Wi-Fi at all.

Microsoft's Office for Mac 2011 font absurdity

I installed Lion on my home MacBook Pro the day it came out. It’s an old 17 inch that I use mostly for testing and mucking around, and don’t mind if something goes wrong. My critical data is on a newer MacBook Pro 15 I use for work or on external drives.

As with every new OS, I’m eager to start playing with it straight away but I’m also concious that it could cause some issues or incompatibilities with the software I use. And there’s always the possibility of a few bugs that made it past testing. 1 So I always install them on a non critical computer first.

With Mac OS X Lion, everything went well and only one application had issues 2, so after a few days of testing I decided to install Lion on my work computer. The only software I did not install on my personal machine is Microsoft Office, as I do not personally own a license for it and I don’t use it for anything other than work anyway.

The actual installation of Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 went well. Although it did feel weird installing software from a disc after going through the Mac App Store and disk images. After it finished it had to download a bunch of updates, which is normal when installing from discs.

The interesting part happened when it finished.

I knew Office installs a bunch of fonts as part of the process, so I opened Font Book to check there weren’t any duplicates and sure enough, there were about 10.

One thing I found strange is that most of them were fonts you’d assume Microsoft knows would already be installed by default on any Mac (like Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana, Trebuchet, and others), so why include them on the installer? Apparently they don’t know Macs come with fonts (or don’t care).

But what I found really absurd is the actual versions of the fonts Microsoft includes.

Take Trebuchet for example. The version that Microsoft installs as part of Office for Mac 2011 is version 1.26 (copyright 1996). However, the version that comes preinstalled on the Mac is version 5.0 (copyright 2006). The best part is that the manufacturer of Trebuchet is Microsoft.

So, Apple uses a newer version (by 10 years apparently) of a Microsoft font than Microsoft themselves. Does this seem idiotic to anybody else?

Trebuchet version installed by Apple.

Office for mac font duplicate 01


Trebuchet version installed by Microsoft.

Office for mac font duplicate 02

  1. It’s strange that I don’t do that with iOS updates. Any time a new version comes out I just install without thinking about it.

  2. Blogo didn’t work. It’s an app that I loved, but after emailing the developers I decided to replace it with MarsEdit.

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion by John Siracusa

John Siracusa's review of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion for Ars Technica is, in my opinion, the must-read review for anyone that's even remotely interested in the new operating system by Apple. It's extremely detailed and John Siracusa is someone who's opinion I trust.

The review is huge. Hundred's of pages huge. 27,000 words huge. And it's awesome.

You can read it at Ars Technica for free from the link above, but it's such a good review that it will no doubt be a great ongoing reference. I think it's worth getting it as a Kindle eBook to read in a friendlier format and have it there whenever you want to look something up. Plus, you support the author. And it's only US$4.99.

OS X Lion - Brain-dead simple and über-nerd powerful

Chris Rawson at TUAW:

If you want brain-dead simple, feature-deprived but so basic even my 91-year-old grandpa could understand it, Lion has Launchpad. If you want middle-of-the-road in terms of usability, features, and ease of use, you have full-screen apps. Semi-advanced usage, hey, the Finder is still there, still confusing as ever to novice users and still frustrating as ever to the mega-geeks who crave UI consistency. As someone who knows just enough about power user features to be a danger to myself and others, Mission Control rocks my face off with its features. And finally, for the über-nerds, Terminal is the same stolid UNIX-y text interface it's been since the 1970s.

That's a great description of OS X Lion.

Lion is here

OS X Lion is here and I'm guessing that was the reason the Apple Store was down an hour ago.

I considered downloading the pre-release version a few months ago but was just way too busy to spend time on it and deal with the potential issues of an unreleased product. So I'll be downloading it for the first time tomorrow. It's past 11pm where I live and I know if I start playing with it now I won't sleep. So tomorrow it is.

Quote: Herbert Simon

Herbert Simon 1:

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

What I find amazing is that he said this in the 70’s. Before the Internet. Before Google. Before RSS. Before multiple devices to get way too much information with.

via: A talk by Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist I attended last week.

  1. Simon, H. A. (1971), “Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World”, in Martin Greenberger, Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest, Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, ISBN 0-8018-1135-X ?

Pretty disappointed with Pixelmator's customer service

I bought Pixelmator 4 weeks ago and wrote about the ridiculous prices Apple has in the Australian Mac App Store, basically not respecting the exchange rate making prices about 25% higher.

In that article, I said I wished I could pay full price for Pixelmator instead of the discount price I had from an offer, but that I didn't want to pay more than full price just because of Apple's pricing system. So I didn't buy from the Mac App Store.

Sadly, just 4 weeks later, the Pixelmator guys announced the new version, which is a free upgrade only for those who bought on the Mac App Store. I emailed customer support and they basically said "tough luck, don't care". Not literally, of course. What they said is that, since Pixelmator 2 will only be sold through the Mac App Store, in order to get the new version I have 2 options:

  1. Buy the full version when it comes out at full price plus the 25% or so extra from Apple's international pricing.
  2. Buy the same version I already paid for a month ago at a "discount price" that's actually higher than what I paid four weeks ago so I can get the upgrade for free.

This sounds ridiculous. I've only started using Pixelmator and I'm already regretting having purchased it.

I'll write more on this soon. I just wanted to get it off my chest.