Developer: Milo Bird
Price: $2.99 Download on the App Store
One of the apps that we completely missed on launch was Byline, an RSS reader that syncs with Google Reader (see video tour here). We thank Felix Sheng for this insightful review of Byline. You can find Felix's original blog entry here. (Note: if you have a review that you would like featured on AppCraver, please contact us at fred at appcraver.com, or use the contact form).
So, this isn’t quite an apples to apples comparison - since Byline (v1.0.2) is an iPhone app and Google Reader is a web app (with an iPhone optimized version). Nevertheless, I find that these are the two things that compete with each other for my RSS browsing time.
There’s another pair of apps, NetNewsWire and NewsGator Online that people like, but I’m addicted to GReader with it’s sharing and sharing with notes that go to my Google buddies as well as to my FriendFeed stream, so I haven’t really checked out this alternate system. It does seem to have the benefit that the iPhone app is written by the same company that does the desktop reader, which seems like a good thing.
At any rate, I had been looking for an RSS app for the iPhone that would sync with Google Reader, since I do a significant amount of RSS browsing on my desktop I didn’t want to have to manage two streams of the same data and remember what I’d seen and what I hadn’t. Most important for me in the iPhone app was the offline reading component - living in NYC I spend a fair amount of time in subways or deep in a building with no connectivity and those tend to be the moments I’d like to catch up on the news.
I’d been following Byline’s progress for awhile and recently it upped the number of posts it would cache from 25 to 200 which finally made that key component useful to me. With only a little hesitation I pressed by and send Apple my $9.99. So for offline reading this is the only game in town, it’s the only app that sync’s with GReader and lets you read without any connectivity. If for that reason alone, I continue to use it and use it a lot.
In terms of Google Reader functionality, it is obviously very similar. Like Reader Byline allows you to see all your new posts, starred posts and noted posts. It also allows you to star and share your posts - unfortunately (and for me this is a big letdown) it does not allow you to share your post with a note. I use this feature on Reader a lot and was really disappointed to see the lack of it.
One thing I find really useful about Reader’s iPhone page is that it shows you 15 posts at a time and provides you a “mark as read” for only those 15. This lets me easily jump in to my usually long list of posts and go through only some of them and marking all those as read. Byline works more like the desktop Reader page in that “mark as read” marks all the posts as unread, so unless I individually mark all the ones I glossed over as read, it’s kind of a pain in the butt. This is a more of problem on the iPhone since usually on the desktop I can plow through a ton of posts and just be done with it.
The nice bits
Byline has some great bits to it, first of all, once it is sync’d it’s significantly faster than Reader on the iPhone, even when I’m connected to WiFi. It’s really nice. Also, unlike the iPhone web client, Byline will show you the number of unread posts you have (although, mildly annoyingly, you have to be inside of a post to see this number, it doesn’t show it to you on the main post listing).
Byline also has a neat feature that caches the actual web page for any starred posts you have so you can see the original. For me, though, I didn’t love the extra sync time this caused and since nearly all my feeds are full feeds, I generally prefer the RSS version of the page since it’s much cleaner and easier to read. So I’ve completely disabled this feature, but I know that for some this is a killer one to have.
A big downside to all this is the fact that Apple prevents any apps from operating in the background. This means that for offline reading before I lose signal I have to actually remember to open up Byline and wait for it to sync. Obviously this isn’t Byline’s fault, but given that offline reading is the primary reason I bought it, it’s kind of a major bummer. Hopefully Apple will get around to making their lame updates API available soon.
Overall Byline is a reasonably solid offering. I generally prefer the functionality offered by the Google Reader iPhone web interface over it, but that doesn’t help me when I’ve got no signal. Nevertheless, Byline is very close to being just as good as Reader and already surpasses it on some levels. I think it’d take very little to bring the baseline functionality up to something I’d really love and coupled with the updates API it could very well one day replace Reader for iPhone for me. If you use Reader and find yourself in situations where you wish you could be browsing RSS but can’t because there’s no connectivity, this app is definitely worth a try. Are you already using it? Or something else?