Update: Gone East have replied and corrected me on some assumptions. I have updated the post to reflect this.
I am an avid user of RSS feeds. I have a list of about 80 feeds which I check several times a day. I can say that I at least see every news item that pops up. I actually read only a few of them that are interesting to me. But not one goes unseen. They are important to me as a news source.
From the day of its release, I have been using Shaun Inman‘s Fever RSS reader to keep up. IEven though I never use its most advertised feature, a “Hot List” where items are rated and sorted by importance, I enjoyed the idea of a self-hosted solution. The web based approach makes it easy to read from work or at home and keep feeds in sync. It has a decent iPhone optimiezed view, but no native app by the developer (which is really sad, given that Objective-C seems to simply come to him).
Enter Sunstroke, a native iPhone client, that syncs with Fever through its API. I immediately bought it when it came out. I have grown dissatisfied with the Fever webview over the last years; it requires a connection, occasionally feels slow and the animations often stutter for me, which is something that IMO doesn’t fit the iPhone experience. Sadly, Sunstroke wasn’t a good fit for me, either. The syncing is fine (though it feels slower than newly released Reeder 3.0’s), but I don’t agree with much of the design. The graphics are mostly fine, but Sunstroke has made interface decisons I can’t live with for my Fever client.
The most unnerving thing, which makes the app basically useless for me as it is now, is the fact, that when I tap an item on the start screen, say “Kindling”, which I use the most, but other lists work the same, I’d expect to get an overview of feeds in there, not a list of all articles that are in there! If I’d like to read the articles of a specific feed, I’m out of luck. How did this happen? The Fever web client has an obvious three-tier interface: left – overview, center – feed list, right – feed content. This I can understand. This I have become used to. Why would it not be in the app? iOS makes these kinds of tiered lists incredibly intuitive to navigate. Check the mail app. Or the Contacts or Phone app. There are so many more!
One other thing that bugs me if the serif font for the article headlines. Why? The start screen has it right: default Helvetica. Not pretty, but managable. Over all, the fonts could have been chosen a bit better. And if it has to be a serif as default, why not at least make a switch or selection option in the Settings app? A few system fonts would already make me happy.
The last thing I want to talk about are the icons. I find them not particularly intuitive. Why not use the icons that iOS has already on board? The refresh arrow from the mail app. A simple checkmark for “Mark as read”. And what is up with the loading indicator? It doesn’t even move. It is indistinguishable from a button. It really needs to spin. Or do something to indicate it’s doing something right now. The obvious choice would be to have the “Refresh” arrow rotate when it’s loading. Do away with the seperate indicator altogether, is what I’m saying.
Long story short: I put in a few hours of work to piece together a few screens of what my ideal Sunstroke would look like. Obviously I don’t have every screen there is, only the ones I actually use and didn’t like the way they were. If I could write apps, I’d build my own client. But as it stands, it doesn’t look like that will be the case for a while, so I’m giving away my thoughts for free. If the people at Gone East LLC like any of them, they are free to use or implement them. In fact, I hope they will, so I can ditch Reeder, which is a great RSS client, but the design doesn’t sing with me. Too flat and custom for my taste. But enough of that.
I’ll quickly go through the screens and note the changes to Sunstroke as it is today. My screenshots are actually iPhone resolution and look of scaled down, especially fonts. Click for the full view.
The start screen is actually decent. I didn’t care for the noise in the navigation or bottom bars, so I got rid of it. I did not get why the arrows sometimes have circles and sometimes not, so I took a page out of mail apps book and made them flat. iOS actually has round number indicators, but the ones in Sunstroke look off, maybe due to the font, I don’t know. As an experiment, I took the indicators mail uses. Relief.
Sunstroke has a toggle to only display new feeds, but it’s a simple dot, which I did not expect. Again, iOS already has a mechanic for that, so I used it. It actually says what it does now.
The screen I miss the most, because it is not in Sunstroke, is the feed overview (could be “Kindling”, could be any list). Fever has it, and it was easily imagined what it would look like.
Update: As it turns out, this screen IS in Sunstroke! Thank god. You tap the small circle arrow instead of the category title, as you do in, say, the phone app favorites view. The behavior should be reversed though, IMO.
It has a refresh button and a “Mark as read” button. Simple enough.
The feed detail view I was most unsure about. It is decent in Sunstroke, but I figured it would have to be more like (again) mail app, so I mocked it up. The unread indicators could be flat to match the rest of the look, but the important thing is the sans-serif font. I somewhat liked the default iOS list headers, which indicate the date in Sunstroke, I simply forgot to put them in my picture. They should remain.
As for the excerpt: the best thing would be if users could choose how many lines should be displayed in the teaser. Some people like more, I myself always pick 0 (in Mail). Anything is fine.
And again: the bottom bar icons are updated.
Finally, the article view. It’s good in Sunstroke, but could be cleaned up. Less borders and backgrounds should make for a more enjoyable reading experience.
I didn’t put in the “Previous” and “Next” buttons. They can stay where they are, or could be moved to the top, a la Mail, as there is room, too.
The font in my screenshot looks especially ugly scaled down, so check it out in full view. It could be better, but I think it’s good like this. The lines are not too short and the line height is okay. More I don’t need.
That’s pretty much it. That would be my dream Fever app. Shaun could make it more pretty, but that’s the way I expect the interface to work. You can do most of that with default iOS elements, which always feels nice and streamlined. I put together two more screens with a feature I am most excited about in iOS 6: native pull to refresh. I don’t know whether this will be publically available, but boy, do I hope so! Sunstroke could get rid of the refresh button. Check it out (I could live with a color other than blue):