Reeder and the Keyboard

Something I was curious about with Reeder for Mac was how a desktop app which was first built for a touch UI would favor those who favor the keyboard. I am one who prefers keyboard shortcuts whenever possible, and I suspect most of you reading this do too.

Zach Holmquist has posted a keyboard shortcut cheat sheet for Reeder, where you’ll find that the primary keys for navigation are Space, J, K, Shift+P, and Shift+N. While these are not necessarily bad keys to use as the primary navigation, they’re not exactly easy to use with one hand. Moreover, they don’t do much to tie together the overall information hierarchy of your RSS subscriptions — there is a pair of keys for moving between items (J and K) and there is a pair of keys for moving between subscriptions (Shift+P and Shift+N).

In NetNewsWire I use the arrow keys to navigate within the subscriptions list, throughout items, and to even open up an item in Safari in the background. In fact, the way the arrow keys work is one of my favorite things about NetNewsWire.

In NetNewsWire it is easy to drill up and down between the high-level list of subscriptions all the way into a single item. There is a clear and understandable hierarchy of your subscriptions and items so you always know where you are at within your list.

While the interface design of Reeder for Mac is gorgeous and polished, it seems as if each level of hierarchy stands a bit isolated. It is easy to navigate within the subscriptions list, it’s easy to navigate within a list of items, and the individual item view is big and clear. But getting between one level to another is not so simple (unless you’re using the mouse).

In David Appleyard’s review of Reeder, he praises the way Reeder for Mac feels like its iOS counterpart:

Click up and down your feed categories on the left, and you’ll see the item list swipe left and right, just as if you were swiping on the iPad. [...] No actual “gestures” required—everything works perfectly with a single mouse click—but you still feel as through you’re swiping your way around an iOS interface.

However, this is precicely where it seems Reeder’s iOS → OS X transition has found a snag. In an iOS app you mostly ever see one level of hierarchy at a time: a screen full of subscriptions; a screen full of items; just an item.

But in a desktop app, you see multiple levels at once. The subscriptions, the item list, and individual item are all in the same window at the same time. Those levels of hierarchy must not only look properly related they must also act properly related in use and experience for the user.

Update: Dean Mayers points out that Reeder’s keyboard shortcuts are the same as those used by Google Reader itself on the gReader website. I, for one, never use Google Reader’s website because I can’t stand it, but I do see the logic in Reeder mimicking Google’s shortcuts.

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