One of my favorite iPhone apps got a recent update. Instapaper is a tool to help you download a library of interesting articles from the Web that you can read at leisure.
It works like this:
I start every day by scanning the tech news. Most days, there's nothing big happening. Microsoft hasn't ditched Windows for Linux, Steve Jobs hasn't resigned from Apple to become a Buddhist monk.
I might read a few articles first thing in the morning, if they look compelling and I can get through them quickly. But I don't have a lot of time in the morning, I need to get on with my day.
Very often, however, during my morning news sweep, I come across an article like this one: "Why Sports Don't Matter." I would love to read this article because I hate sports. The Olympics' recent domination of the news has been excruciating. Why would grown people want to sweep a rock down a length of ice with a broom, and why should anyone else care how well they do it?
But I don't have time to read that article now.
Fortunately, I'm signed up to Instapaper.com. When I signed up, I installed a bookmarklet in my browser toolbar. Now, when I come across an article I want to read later, I click that browser bookmarklet and Instapaper saves the link.
Later, when I have time, I fire up the iPhone Instapaper app (free for a lite version, $5 for full functionality), which downloads all the articles I've bookmarked for later reading, and presents them reformatted for easy reading on the small screen, including scaled-down versions of graphics. Instapaper removes ads and attempts to remove navigation sidebars and other clutter from the Web site -- not always successfully. Many sites don't format well, Instapaper fails to eliminate the navigation sidebars and other clutter from some sites (including Computerworld). You can work around this by bookmarking the printer-friendly versions of articles, which is also the best way to download multi-page articles.
Text is displayed as one long column. You navigate the column by tapping and dragging up and down, as you would on the Mobile Safari browser. Or you can scroll the text up and down by tilting the iPhone, adjusting the position of text with a slight movement of your hand. I like to move the text a couple of lines at a time that way, with the line of text I'm currently reading centered on the screen.
Yes, I have an app to help me read without moving my eyes too much. If I were one of our pioneer ancestors, I would have died of laziness in a day.
Instapaper 2.2, the new version, includes a built-in mini-browser for viewing articles in their original format on the Web. It adds pagination; to scroll up or down a full screen at a time by tapping the top or bottom of the screen. I prefer the tilt-scroll. And in the article list view, the headlines of articles you've partly read have a tiny icon next to them.
I'm excited to use it on the iPad when that device comes out later this month, because I foresee Instapaper will be even better on the larger screen.
Instapaper has built-in Twitter integration, to let you tweet articles from within Instapaper. That's great, but the URLs are too long: 30 characters, compared with 13 for bit.ly.
Let's finish with a few screenshots: