I’ve been trying out the freshly-released NetNewsWire 4 for three days now. I was excited when Black Pixel announced it, and I respect all the work that’s been done on it since version 3, but so far I’m rather unimpressed. I haven’t checked out the iPhone app because frankly I’m an enthusiastic user of Unread and it’s unlikely I’ll change RSS reader on my iOS devices anytime soon. Since there isn’t an Unread for Mac (but there should be), on the Mac I’m a bit more flexible. I’ve actually been a NetNewsWire user since the early days, and on my vintage Macs I still use version 2.x and 3.x. My current RSS reader for Mac is Reeder and I also bought ReadKit sometime ago. But I really, really like Reeder. It’s fast, it has a good set of features, it shows a thoughtful design and UI. Other RSS readers I have on my Mac are Vienna, Pulp, and of course I downloaded NetNewsWire Lite as soon as Brent Simmons released it on the Mac App Store in March 2011.
Speaking of NetNewsWire Lite, here’s its interface:
And here’s NetNewsWire 4’s interface:
They’re quite similar. One can argue that basically all RSS readers out there have similar layouts because how else are you expected to present news and articles? Pulp for Mac tried the newspaper metaphor and associated skeuomorphism, and it’s indeed a fun UI, but this one is more practical for long reading sessions.
Still, four years have passed between NetNewsWire Lite and this new NetNewsWire 4, and while I’m sure that a lot of work was carried out behind the scenes (a new iOS version and the NetNewsWire Cloud Sync service have been released simultaneously), and that there may have been periods without development, the fact is that, when compared to NetNewsWire Lite, NetNewsWire 4 doesn’t really feel the “Pro” version of the same software. It feels like a minor update of NetNewsWire Lite, with a few refinements here and there, and little else.
After the discontinuation of Google Reader, a few alternative RSS services appeared, such as Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, Newsblur and Feedly. I found particularly easy to transition to Feedly by associating the same Google account I used to fetch RSS feeds. Readers like Unread, ReadKit and Reeder can handle accounts created with those alternative services, so it’s easy to set them up, and I can use any RSS reader on Mac OS X and iOS that’ll handle my Feedly account, and all the blogs and sites I follow, and the articles I’ve read or yet to read will be kept in sync. As I suspected, given that NetNewsWire has its own sync service, when it was time to set up NetNewsWire 4 I could not just add my Feedly account, but had to either add feeds manually or import an OPML file generated from another reader. Not a really big deal: I exported my subscription as an OPML file from Reeder, and NetNewsWire 4 imported everything very quickly and without troubles. But I was annoyed that the unread articles count was not maintained after the import: all subscriptions were imported with the last 30-40 articles marked as unread.
Feature-wise, NetNewsWire 4 has the essential functionality to get the job done and that’s it. I agree with Michael Tsai:
It still has the “lite” feature set, nothing like my beloved NetNewsWire 3. There are no smart folders. There’s no meaningful AppleScript support. It doesn’t support the system share menu.
and with John Gruber’s response:
One can argue that most people don’t use smart folders, and few people script apps with AppleScript — but that’s exactly why there’s an opportunity for a paid app that does support such things. This is why BBEdit has so many esoteric features. This is why apps from Omni and Panic have esoteric features, and in Omni’s case lots of customization options.
When I’m in NetNewsWire 4, the feeling I get is to be using a built-in Mac OS X RSS reader, if Apple had one. An adequate, honest app for the average user, no more no less. A system tool with not a very distinctive personality, so to speak.
The new NetNewsWire is presented as an ecosystem: there’s the Mac OS X app, the Cloud Sync service, and the iOS app. It’s both its strong and weak point. I think that to get the most out of NetNewsWire, you have to go all-in and get the whole package. This way you get a coherent experience across your Apple devices. Taken as an ecosystem, NetNewsWire works well and is a decent, inexpensive offering. But if you already have a favourite RSS reader either on iOS or Mac OS X, and you’re just interested in using NetNewsWire 4 for Mac or NetNewsWire iOS, then the single apps, taken alone, aren’t quite as strong. Further, if it’s synchronisation you’re after (and who isn’t, with RSS readers nowadays?), getting either NetNewsWire 4 for Mac OS X or NetNewsWire iOS doesn’t make much sense, because they won’t sync with that other RSS reader you have on either platform. In other words, if I switch to NetNewsWire 4 on my Mac as primary reader, but keep Unread as my reader of choice on my iPhone and iPad, I won’t be able to keep the two in sync because they rely on different services.
I understand the benefits of having a seamless ecosystem, but at this point asking people to ditch both their RSS reader of choice on Mac OS X and iOS is a bit too much to swallow, especially because apps like Reeder on both platforms and Unread on iOS represent very strong competition. Let’s just focus on Reeder for a moment, which is the best example for a comparison since it too is available for iOS and Mac OS X. Reeder apps are perfectly independent. They don’t rely on a proprietary sync service, so you can simply choose to buy Reeder for Mac or Reeder for iOS, use another RSS reader on either platform, and always have your feeds in sync. Or, if you like the Reeder experience, and want a familiar interface on both platforms, you can go on and buy the two apps. The full Reeder package (iOS + OS X) will cost you $4.99 + $9.99, only $1 more than the whole NetNewsWire package, so there’s not much difference. But the fact that the two Reeder apps can stand each on their own feet makes Reeder a more compelling alternative than NetNewsWire, in my opinion. You don’t need both apps to appreciate Reeder’s strength and usefulness, but it’s likely that you’ll end up getting the two of them anyway. Instead, to fully appreciate NetNewsWire, you’ll have to purchase both the OS X and iOS apps.
- 1. To be fair, that’s not a specific fault of NetNewsWire 4; importing the file in another reader would have had the same effect, but still I found this step annoying because with other RSS readers I’m just accustomed to just enter the credentials of my Feedly account and have everything in sync on the fly. ↩