There are some apps which, due to the nature of their usage and/or contents, seem to earn a more personal connection from the user than other apps. Twitter apps I think are like this because they’re filled with the life updates, corny jokes, and selfies of our friends and family. Writing apps also can garner a connection with their users because they serve as the tool where we express our thoughts and feelings.
And though one might expect an RSS app to be insipid, or, at best, utilitarian, I find them quite the opposite — because they’re filled with the recent articles, photographs, and stories of my hand-chosen, favorite writers, photographers, and news outlets.
An RSS reader is the window into your curated world.
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Like so many other life-changing moments, my relationship with RSS readers began in a church pew.
It was a Sunday morning in early 2007, and our Church had Wi-Fi, and I was sitting in a back corner with a friend, and instead of using my PowerBook G4 to take notes I was surfing the web reading all my favorite blogs.
If you’ve read my review of NetNewsWire, you’re already familiar with the story: I used to keep all the blogs I enjoyed reading in a bookmark folder in Safari on my Mac. But that Sunday morning, sitting next to my friend, he introduced me to an RSS reader.
“You can follow all those sites in one spot, you know?”
I didn’t know.
He set me up with the RSS reader in Safari (which has long since been removed). But I soon moved on to Vienna, and then NetNewsWire 3.1 on the Mac (which, in my humble opinion, is one of the all-time best pieces of Mac software ever).
I’ve also used Google Reader, NewsGator Online, Reeder for Mac, iPad, and iPhone, ReadKit, NetNewsWire on my iPhone, Byline, Fever, and probably a few more.
And now, today, we have Unread. It’s a brand new RSS app for the iPhone, and it is fantastic.
I have been using Unread throughout its beta period for the past two months, and in that time it has quietly usurped the previous RSS reader on my home screen.
Unread works with Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, and Feedly. I’ve been using it with my Feed Wrangler account and it loads my unread items extremely quickly.
Unread is also very fun. It’s full of subtle animations and easy gestures. The app is understated, extremely readable, and welcoming.
It’s not that there’s anything in particular. There’s just a simple elegance to it. The app is well designed and nice to use.
It’s on launch sale for just $3 and I think it’s worth 10 times that. I paid $30 for NetNewsWire on my Mac half a decade ago, and now, years later, I’m using Unread on my iPhone instead.
Unread is somewhat different than any other app I’ve used before. And yet it’s also quite familiar. It has all the expected features — you can send an article to Instapaper or share it on Twitter or text message it to your friends — and yet they feel unexpected. The share sheet slides in from the right-hand side, and feels akin to the bouncy and playful animations of Tweetbot 3.
I’ve long been a fan of Jared Sinclair’s design taste, and I consider Riposte to be one of the finest apps on my iPhone. I can’t put my finger on precisely what it is, but if I had to explain it in one word then I’d say Unread is peaceful.
But my hunch is that Unread will prove to be a somewhat polarizing app. Some, like me, will love it. Others, undoubtedly, will not like it.
The app has nearly both feet in iOS 7, but there is still a toe or two in iOS 6. There are little things — such as the design of the status bar at the top of the screen — that still feel reminiscent of iOS designs from yesteryear. But don’t read that as a dig against the app’s design…
The status bar doesn’t look like it belongs in the past, but it does have a slight nostalgic feel to it that is reminiscent of the more skeumorphic, graphics-heavy iOS designs of old. I am a fan of the status bar.
When talking about Riposte, developer Jared Sinclair, said this:
We take push/pop transitions at face value: swiping to go back is like pulling yourself back to where you were before. If I can’t picture an app as a set of cards laid out in a grid on a table, I can’t understand it.
That exact same gesture-reliant design philosophy is prevalent all throughout Unread as well. The set of cards include (starting at the left-most, topmost “card”) the Home screen, the list of subscribed feeds and any folders or groups, the list of articles in those feeds, and then the article itself.
Hovering (theoretically) at all times to the right, is the share/action card. Pulling from right-to-left in any screen slides in the share sheet. From there you get access to a list of relevant actions and settings.
Common settings include changing themes (dark, light, and others), marking all articles as read, and more.
But the action sheet shows different options based on the context of when it was summoned. If you’re acting on a specific article, for example, then you have the option to “Share” the article and thus send it to Instapaper, Pinboard, OmniFocus, Twitter, your Safari Reading List, and more. To share a specific article directly from the article list view you have to tap and hold on that article.
By using this gesture-based share sheet, Unread has no persistent toolbar when reading an article. When in the various list views you see the status bar on top and a “navigation” bar on bottom that tells you where you are in the app. But when reading an individual article, you’re in full screen mode with nothing visible but the article itself.
Navigation and density
Unread’s home screen is where you start with access to the app’s settings and other special miscellany, as well as the RSS syncing platform of your choice (FeedWrangler, Feedbin, and/or Feedly). You then drill down to the high-level list of your feeds under your syncing engine account, and from there you can select which list of your articles you want to dig in to: all unread, all articles, one of your smart streams or folders, or your specific site feeds.
All of these sections — these “cards” — exude the basic design philosophy and opinion of Jared Sinclair: that the app would be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. But it is especially present when perusing down your list of individual unread articles.
Unlike most other RSS apps I’ve used, Unread shows considerably more content-per-article when viewing the list of articles. I’m used to seeing a condensed list of articles that shows each article title and time of posting (akin to email). In Unread, however, you see the article title, name of the website, time of posting, the first few sentences of the article, and, if there is an image as part of the article, then the image is shown as well.
Unread is not dense.
At first, this less-dense view irked me. But I quickly acclimated to it and now prefer it, even look forward to it.
Scrolling is free. In a context where I am assessing each individual article to decide if I want to read it or not, viewing just 2 or 3 article summaries on the screen at a time can be just as efficient as viewing 5 or 6 headlines. In fact, I’d argue that this less-dense list view is more efficient. For one, it presents more data per article, allowing you to read a bit of the article to help with your decision to drill down and read it in its entirety or not. And secondly, it is far easier to make a choice between 2 options than 6.
I do have a few nits to pick, however.
As it is now, when you are done reading an article, you can not go directly on to the next unread article. It would be nice to be able to go from one unread article to the next without having to go back to the list first.
By default, unread items persist in the list of articles (in a grayed-out state). You can get around this by tapping directly on the unread item count in a list instead of tapping on the list’s name in which you will see only the unread items in the list. However, I wish this behavior were reversed.
When you’re going to read a web page, the previously-loaded web page is there waiting for you until the new one comes up. Something about this feels slow or unconsidered to me.
It was the design of Unread that hooked me right away — the app is clean, friendly, and warm, and all its type is set in Whitney — but the more I used it the more I began to appreciate and enjoy the functionality and feature decisions built into the app.
Unread is refreshingly simple and elegant. If you subscribe to RSS feeds and read them on your iPhone, take some time and use Unread for a while — I think you’ll be glad you did.
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You can get Unread on the App Store (still propagating) for just $2.99.
This is a guest post, written by my good friend, Josh Farmer.
I may have a mild form of Aspergers, which makes me somewhat awkward in social situations. This is especially true when I get into nerdy conversations about very specific topics I enjoy. Typefaces are one of those topics.
What follows is an alphabetical listing of great typefaces from 2013. I hope it gets you thinking about how to branch out more into the world of type, whether in your creative ventures or as an informed reader.
Alverata by Gerard Unger
Gerard Unger, one of the patriarchs of modern type design, is still going strong. For part of his Ph.D., he created Alverata as a new take on Romanesque forms. Inscription is the basis for this face, which can be seen in its sharp, short serifs and flared forms.
Alverata comes in three weights (Regular, Informal, and Alternates), each with their own purpose and feel. The Regular is just what it says on the tin: basic characters that play well with eleventh- and twelfth-century history. The Informal set introduces an unexpected softness with such things as a single-story a and calligraphic terminals. The Alternate weight is made for all kinds of medieval scenarios, goth lite logos, or maybe the next dragon movie.
Bree Serif by Veronika Burian & José Scaglione
The extremely popular upright italic, Bree, got a charming seriffed cousin this year. All the personality is alive and well in Bree Serif, and now it has the added benefit of working in more scenarios.
Bree began as the typeface based on TypeTogether’s logo; it was an expansion of the e–T ligature Veronika created for their wordmark. The spry upright italic has been one of their most adored and most used typefaces since its creation. Bree Serif began as a Google Fonts project and matured into a full-fledged counterpart to Bree that comes in 12 weights and speaks multiple languages. It still has the looped g, y, and z that everyone recognizes and it includes alternate forms. As readable in text sizes as it is distinct in headlines, Bree Serif puts a pair of modern glasses on Bree’s face. We all know it’s our fun-loving friend, but now we know she’s serious about having a fun night out.
Domaine by Kris Sowersby
What can I say about this type family? It’s gorgeous. Every curve is considered, every sharp point inviting. Its high class contrast will steal the money right out of your wallet and you will be all the richer for it. Seriously. Your type IQ will increase by using Domaine, which will cause others to rush to join your elite fan club. (Elite fan club not included.) Domaine is classy, erudite, and still fun. Its characters look like they began with a paintbrush and were finished with pen. It’s James Bond with a loosened tie.
FF Dora by Slávka Pauliková
Yet another strong release from FontFont, the team behind fontshop.com. FF Dora’s hybrid personality mixes the freedom of brush strokes with the restraint needed for a text serif. It strikes me as a contender to the great Skolar family, though it has only six weights so far. I love seeing the bulge created by the turns of the brush at the baseline when retracing a stem, such as with the italic m. Other lovely touches: the asymmetrical dot on the i, the inktraps on stem–curve joins, the italic k, the wide stance of the typeface itself, and how the stems are slightly flared.
The display version takes every aspect three steps further, daring you to slather its personality across something mundane. And who doesn’t love the section and dagger symbols? The only improvement I would have requested is more alternates for each character to expand the painterly possibilities. And ponies and world peace, but one thing at a time.
Exquise FY by FontYou
Exquise is great when you want some pizzazz with your Didone substitute. I love the diagonal modified terminals that curve in on themselves, the numerous beautiful ligatures, and the gently curved strokes that finish off some letters, such as the lower- and uppercase k, v, and w. Due to these qualities, Exquise is elegant when used large and it won’t let you skip too quickly when used smaller in text.
Haven’t heard of FontYou? Think of it as a font hub where you can submit your type doodles, see those from others, vote, and then buy the ones that get awsome-ized (that is, made into real typefaces). It’s your neighborhood farm-to-market fonts that you can have a hand in creating. This is organic at its finest.
Kumla by Göran Söderström
Söderström has put out some fantastic typefaces over the years, such as Trim, Siri, Heroine, and FF Dagny — each with a very specific goal in mind. Now we are treated to the best remake of something worthy of a Russian version of Star Trek.
This high-waisted typeface feels that way thanks to the shallow bowl on the R and P, the quick curve of the S, and how the N connects its two stems. Use it in place of Eurostile, as a futuristic replacement for Helvetica (gasp, sacrilege!), as a more industrial version of Neo Sans, or to create some unforgettable branding.
MVB Solitaire by Mark van Bronkhorst
Sometimes what you need isn’t so much a show stopper as a workhorse that blends into an overall scheme. Web historians might put Verdana and Lucida in that do-it-all wallflower category. Hoefler & Frere-Jones and Mark Simonson have winners in this category with Whitney and Proxima Nova, respectively. MVB Solitaire belongs in that dignified grouping. Its enormous x-height means it’s easy to set as small as you want without any worries about legibility, and the lowercase g takes on different personalities in each weight.
MVB Solitaire is a straight shooter with just enough personality to pair well with almost anything. This means that, though no one would put these faces in the same category, MVB Solitaire can stand in equally well for Gill Sans, Myriad, Futura, or Verdana.
Magasin by Laura Meseguer
Magasin is a friendly connected script based on the flattened oval. That geometric foundation makes way for the connections to be seen, and the separated strokes show how each letter was formed. As for me, I love the pilcrow, British pound, and Registered symbols. If you ever get the chance to rebrand the Madeline cartoon and they’re ready to change the hand-drawn wordmark, put Magasin on the list.
Dieter Hofrichter of hoftype.com
Dieter Hofrichter gets the award as one of the most prolific typeface producers each year. Last year he released 11 faces; this year it was six, of which my eye is drawn to Capita, Foro Rounded, Quant, and Qubo.
Granted, some releases are rounded versions of typefaces Hofrichter has already created, but that doesn’t make his productivity any less impressive. His typefaces are great for setting a textual tone and are optimized for setting medium or long texts, so try one of his to replace your normal text face. How easy is this to do? Super easy, because Hoftype usually gives away one weight of each new family for free. Keep an eye on Hoftype next year. Who knows how many new faces we will be graced with in 2014.
Remo by Thomas Thiemich
Oh, happy retinas, Remo is here! Thiemich has a way of crossing categories better than almost anyone in type design today. I was immediately drawn to his exhaustive Alto type family, with its friendly inner raindrop shape and variety of widths and weights. He’s back once again showing off his serious design skills and his eye for what works across several decades of type design. If a relaxed geometric is what you need, instead of another strict redrawing on a grid, Remo is it.
Thiemich started with strict geometry, but then moved on with more charm and maturity than you would expect from a turn-of-the-century typeface. Each stroke is pushed toward the outside of the block of space it inhabits, so the thin glyphs feel like they maintain about the same area as the heavy weights. If Remo were alive, I’d imagine it got frozen in time as it inhaled.
Check out the difference between the thin and light weights of the M; the center apex moved down. The curls added to the a, d, and l, along with the cheery s, create gentility. The low-waisted R, Y, and S are begging for some Broadway attention, but don’t pigeonhole it to 1920s New York; the a, J, Q, and l would never feel at home there. And that’s the genius of this type family — it fits multiple styles like a glove. I love the descending italic f and the face’s enormous x-height, but you might be just as happy to replace the overused Futura. Or Univers. Or Avenir. Or Mr. Eaves. Or Broadway, you Windows users who still want to use the marching ants effect. When you’re ready to get a typeface that can handle so many different decades, Remo is your man. This typeface makes me happy.
Sauna Mono by Underware at underware.nl
Forget the days of coding headaches. Sauna is interesting to look at — even fun. So far, monospaced typefaces have been bitmappy, annoying, and just horrid. Nitti put a dent in that universe but didn’t truly change the expectation. Sauna Mono is the answer to, “And what normal person would ever want to look at a coding font for hours each day?” Someone who is staring at Sauna Mono, that’s who. Sauna has personality and good looks; it’s definitely not your grandma’s mono, which sounds weird now that I’ve said it. Classy, readable, and with another text and display family just waiting to be discovered. If you do any coding behind the scenes or screenwriting important scenes, you should check Sauna Mono out. Why not do your job well and love the typeface you’re using at the same time? And I do mean love. Don’t just take whatever mono Sublime Text has packaged, get something you will love. Sauna Mono fits this bill.
Supernova by Martina Flor
Ever since Lettering vs. Calligraphy took the font world by storm, I’ve been waiting to see a brush script come from Martina Flor’s hand. Supernova is her brilliant release that doesn’t lose one ounce of energy, regardless how it’s used.
Supernova’s most amazing feature? It’s readable. Yes, it actually works in short- to medium-length text. She made five weights specifically for text and one with more expressiveness for use in huge sizes, appropriately called the poster weight. She then added a few alternates for each glyph and some decorative elements such as curls, frames, slathers, and dollops. My gut feeling is that she had to force herself to stop adding alternates and decoration. Supernova is cheeky and vibrant. It’s perfect for packaging and will also add some much-needed charm to the neutral or overwrought geometric typeface you were forced to pick by some faceless committee. Not that this has ever happened to me you.
Zulia by Joluvian and Ale Paul
Zulia is an expressive, legible paintbrush face with great alternates. Quick turns and extended swashes are the easiest to notice, but look at the downward strokes for a lesson in controlled speed. This typeface is precisely what Sudtipos are known for.
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A final thought. I’m making two calls: This will be the year of the alternate glyphs, and a year of focusing more on multilingualism in type.
We’ve seen much of these before, but I think it’s increasing substantially. We’ve seen type designers create awesome things from scratch and breathe new life into entire categories, so now I think many designers will use alternate glyphs to distinguish themselves and their typefaces. We’ve seen a bit of this in the past, especially with well done scripts such as Underware’s Liza. Lately there’s been a trend toward sans and serif families with a greater range and the ability to switch tones. Alternates for characters such as a, g, e, s, and l provide just such a tonal distinction. Read Kris Sowersby’s article on Metric & Calibre to see how easily and effectively tone can be changed through just a few letters. I’m guessing this will become standard practice, in tandem with a long-awaited multilingualism for major releases, in which type families are created from the start with something more than the Latin alphabet as the driving force. What would the Latin alphabet look like if it came through the filter of the Cherokee language first? Little experiments like this are happening all the time, and I think the world sees better with pluralistic, artistic glasses on.
So here’s to this past year in typefaces and to the great start of 2014. Because, in case you didn’t know, just since I began writing this article several more typefaces were released. And that’s great news.
My grandpa is legally blind. He can see, but poorly. When he reads books they are the extra large print editions, and he holds them so close they’re practically resting on his nose. And when he watches an old western film from his VHS collection he sits about two feet away from his big-screen TV.
Last weekend, while in Colorado visiting family, we had a big family dinner at my parents’ house. I loaded my 2-year-old son, Noah, into the car and we drove to pick up my Grandpa from his apartment and bring him over for dinner.
My Grandparents’ homes were always filled with seemingly floor to ceiling photos of family. And his current apartment is no different. There are picture frames on the table and on the desk and on the dresser, and snapshots of grandchildren have been printed out (with the help of more tech-savvy relatives) and thumb-tacked to the walls.
At the apartment, I held Noah while my Grandpa gathered his things — his coat, hat, and walker. And, a new item now: his iPad.
The iPad was a gift from my aunt. It’s a 3rd generation and she doesn’t use it that often so she gave it to him hoping he could use it. (Perhaps as a giant remote control for the TV?)
But my Grandpa discovered a use for it that none of us had considered. It is the best camera he’s ever owned.
Before leaving the apartment, Noah and I had to pose for a picture. Holding the iPad about 10 inches in front of his face, my Grandpa snapped a few photos.
I know there are people out there who take pictures using their iPads, because I’ve seen — ahem — pictures of them doing it. But I’ve always thought it a bit funny and awkward.
And there I was. Posing to have my picture taken with an iPad.
At first, I wanted to snicker. But how could I? If my Grandpa wants to use an iPad to take a picture of his grandson and great grandson, then who cares? Certainly not me.
Back at my parent’s house, my Grandpa continued to spend the first part of the evening taking everyone’s picture. Several of my cousins were there, and many of us don’t get to see my Grandpa more often than every couple of months, if not longer. It was a prime time for snapshots.
Later, Noah quickly warmed up to my Grandpa thanks to the iPad. (As any parent knows, iPads and iPhones are captivating to a toddler. Noah is already quite fluent with iOS and has been sliding to unlock since before he could walk.) The iPad was a way for my Grandpa to spend some time with Noah at his side, as the two of them flipped through the camera roll.
With a smile, I’ve been thinking about that evening for the past week.
My Grandpa’s iPad has enabled him to do something that he’s been unable to do for as long as I can remember. The 9.7-inch touch screen has turned my Grandpa into a photographer.
The screen is large enough that he can see well enough to actually frame and take pictures. And then he has them right there, on that same large screen, where he can browse through them any time he wants.
To me, that’s pretty magical.
This week I’m launching a new podcast: The Weekly Briefly.
(Though, if we’re going to be technical about it, it’s not really a new podcast… It’s more like a new spin on my current podcast.)
I’ve been recording and publishing my members-only podcast, Shawn Today, since February 2011. As of this morning I have published 467 episodes. Over the years, topics have run mostly parallel to topics here on shawnblanc.net — such as software, productivity and time management, photography, design, and more. But I’ve also talked about things I don’t write about, such as impostor syndrome, finances and budgeting, life as a dad, and more. On more than one occasion, Shawn Today has been the seedbed for future articles and reviews here on shawnblanc.net. (Last summer, Shawn Today was even the seedbed for an entire book.)
With Shawn Today now entering its 4th season, I want to change things up a bit. Here’s why:
- I very much enjoy doing Shawn Today, but I wanted to expand the show’s reach and add something new to the mix to see what would happen.
- The Weekly Briefly is a way for those who aren’t members to still listen to my podcast (albeit a weekly version instead of the daily), and a way for me to put some of my podcasts out there for anyone and everyone. Because, I believe ideas that spread, win.
- For those who are members, but who don’t keep up with the daily episodes, now you have an easier target if you want: just listen to the once-a-week show.
- Hopefully this once-a-week public episode will draw in new subscribers to the members-only daily podcast.
If you’re already listening to Shawn Today, there’s no need to subscribe to The Weekly Briefly because the latter will double as the Friday episode of the former.
Yesterday I published the pilot episode (what I recorded in order to get the podcast feed populated and submitted to iTunes).
Here is the Podcast RSS feed, which you can use to subscribe to the show in your Podcatcher of choice.
Here is the direct iTunes link for the show (may still be propagating for some).
My deepest and most sincere thanks to all the subscribing members of this site who listen to the show, give feedback, and enhance the conversation. You’ve made the past 467 episodes of Shawn Today a possibility, and I am very much looking forward to what the next 467 episodes have in store.