The reason why I got an iPad as early as I did was so that I could travel to GLS without a laptop. I’ll blog about how that went later, but I want to talk about one particular aspect of iPad life separately, namely using it as an RSS reader.

I first tried to use Google Reader on the iPad, since that’s what I use on my laptop. You can get it to work, but it’s not pleasant: the mobile version is designed for a phone, and the full version doesn’t work well without a mouse and keyboard. (It was completely unusable until I learned that you can use two-finger scrolling to scroll one pane of a multipane layout.)

So I searched for native iPad clients that can hook into my Reader subscriptions; the first I tried was Feeddler. And I was blown away: it was my first experience with just how much better the iPad can be at certain interactions. I doubt I’ll be able to explain it adequately, but here goes anyways:

I prefer to read most blog posts on the blog’s web site. So I would go through Reader, j’ing to each post and typing ‘v’ to bring up the article. But it takes a little while to load the article, so I batch them up: I clover-backtick to get to Reader, then repeat this a few times, and once I’ve got three or four loading, I clover-backtick to get to the oldest. Or at least to one of them: the main downside of Snow Leopard for me was that it changed the window cycling algorithm so that I ended up reading articles in a somewhat random order.

This interaction style doesn’t work at all on an iPad: it’s just not built for opening a bunch of windows (or a bunch of tabs) at once. So I was worried about reading RSS feeds on it: I don’t want going through my feeds to take twice as long because of all the page load wait time.

So I fired up Feeddler, and told it to show me oldest unread article. Which it did, displaying the contents of that article from the RSS feed. And then I tapped on the title, which I correctly guessed would bring up the article from the blog’s web site.

What I did not guess, however, was that the article would show up extremely quickly. I haven’t measured it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s loading pages four or so times faster than this laptop. It is, admittedly, an old laptop, but I’d always assumed that it was fast enough at rendering, and that the latencies were in the network. Apparently, my assumptions were wrong: occasionally, I’d run into a post that would take a while to load on the iPad, but most of the time they would pop up very snappily.

And this, in turn, subtly changed my interaction with the blogs I was reading. Rather than having four or five windows open in my browser (and with more icons/windows visible on the screen from other applications), and having some small part of my attention aware of the fact that I’d queued up multiple blog posts, I would just focus on one post at a time. That post would fill my screen, I wouldn’t have any other distractions, and I’d move on to the next when I was done. (Incidentally, one of the things I’ve learned from my recent iPad usage is to use the vertical orientation whenever possible: fill the screen with what you’re concentrating on, only bring up navigation lists on demand rather than always having them as a left pane.)

It got better when I tapped on a Youtube video: it started playing, I noticed a fullscreen icon; so I tapped that, and turned the iPad on its side, and all of a sudden I was immersed in the video I was watching. (It helped that the first video I watched this way was really pretty.) Again, the same principle applies: by having the video fill my screen, I was minimizing my distractions, and just watching it rather than looking at the words and pictures surrounding it on the page.

At home, I’d pretty much only using the iPad to play games; no longer. If I’m in the mood to read stuff, then the iPad is a much better device than this laptop.

Advice for other iPad owners: as part of this, I sampled a few of the RSS applications. This is clearly a fast-moving space: Feeddler had a lot more bugs a week ago than it does right now. Having said that, my current opinion is:

  • NewsRack is much slower at bringing up web pages than Feeddler is, and doesn’t have any compensating benefits (I think it even had one or two other annoyances), so it’s not a choice for me.
  • My current favorite is Reeder. (That link goes to an iPhone version, but hopefully he’ll add iPad screenshots soon.) It is much more elegantly styled than Feeddler, which is important to me for iPad applications; it also starts up noticeably faster. (It’s possible it brings up web pages a touch slower, but it’s still fast enough to be quite workable.) It took a little while for me to find some of the options: to see unread articles oldest first, you have to go to its settings within the general settings application; to see a specific feed, use two fingers to expand the folder that the feed lives in.

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