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The Feed: design takes the lead in this Google Reader iPad app

The Feed
When you look at some apps it's pretty clear that the design of the user experience was left a little late in the development cycle. It's common practice to employ a designer to finish off what the developer has already put in place, polishing the pixels if you will. That's certainly not the case with The Feed, as its claim to fame is that it's been made purely by a design firm, Ocean Observations, from the get go -- but does it show?

Design

Page view
On the face of it, The Feed is a fairly attractive RSS reader, taking design cues from apps on other platforms. For instance, RSS feed selection is done through a panel interface that lines up your synced feeds in expanding rows of folders that ends up looking a lot like the movie time-line seen in apps like iMovie on the Mac. The rest of the interface is fairly minimalist, directing your attention to the content but with actions handily hidden in plain sight behind icon-activated pop-out menus. Tapping the settings button gives you quick access to the options menu, while tapping the now universal iOS sharing button (the box with an arrow going out from it) shows you the few sharing options it has.

The Feed for iPad



The RSS feeds themselves are displayed in a similar manner to an infinite-scroll blog, with articles displayed in full and divided by small breaks, which reminds me of Microsoft Word's 'page view.' Once you've read an article the red side band turns gray and has what looks like a chunk bitten out of the side of it. It's certainly a novel way to display read status, and is easy to see at a glance because of the color coding. Pinching to zoom or hitting the zoom in/out button takes you from the full article view to a smaller, title-and-text snippet view, which presents in a narrower column centered on the screen. I would like a way to collapse the feed down into just a list of titles for quicker parsing, but it's pretty easy to flick through the full text or zoomed out view with gestures or the included article jump arrows. You can also tap the button that looks like a full screen icon, which will show you the article on the original site if you're connected to the Internet at that time.

It's a relatively slick experience, but it's certainly not without its faults. If you have a lot of feeds with many, many unread articles then the lack of title-only display might really put you off.

Function

Starred
While The Feed has a fluid experience with a glossy design-led sheen to it, it's an RSS reader, so at the end of the day it'll sink or swim on the strength of its management and reading features. Unfortunately The Feed is a little light on features – sure it'll sync your feeds from Google Reader, star them and pin them, as well as let you share to a handful of social networks, but there's not much beyond that. Feeds are synced whilst in the presence of a network, but images aren't cached, which makes reading some more visual feeds a poor experience if you're not connected at the time.

There's also no Instapaper or other save it for later service integration. Pulling in your feeds is quite fast over Wi-Fi, but as mentioned before there's no image caching, which could land you with some costly 3G data hits if you're out and about. It also seems a little sporadic as to whether it'll actually download an image or not, with most feeds presenting as bare text. For the most part that's fine, allowing you to focus in on the meat of the content, but often the image can be quite important, sometimes the sole reason for the post, so it would be nice to have more control over image download.

Verdict

For a free app, The Feed is a fairly competent Google Reader client. It pulls down feeds fast over Wi-Fi and allows you to do most of what Google reader does on the desktop, but there are just a few things missing that make it shoot wide of the 'must have' mark. For now, Reeder is still my go to RSS reader of choice on the iPad, but The Feed certainly shows some promise, feeling a bit like a feature incomplete beta. I hope the developers add some of the more common RSS reader features, such as Instapaper integration and some more control options, because they could be onto a winner here with a bit more work. Download The Feed for free and give it a whirl yourself, or checkout the gallery above for a screenshot tour.

The Feed [iTunes] - Free

Tags: apps, hands-on, iOS, iPad, review, reviews, RSS, The Feed, TheFeed