Instapaper has gotten more than its share of love over here on iPad.AppStorm. Consistently rated among the most useful apps and best-of lists, Instapaper is an app and service that has made reading anything you find on the web a joy again.
With version 4.0, Instapaper has gone through some serious changes. The iPad version has changed the most of all, sporting a brand-new interface that utilizes all of the iPad’s large display.
The first thing to understand about Instapaper is that it’s less about the applications (though they’re certainly important) and more about the service. Instapaper saves the text and images from any article or piece of writing that you happen to find on the web, and is accessible via the Instapaper website and the iOS apps.
To begin, you need to create an account at the Instapaper website. Accounts are free to create, and you can begin using Instapaper right away with a combination of the bookmarklet provided and other applications that we’ll discuss later.
Instapaper is simple. It removes the ads and all of the ‘crust’ from what you’re reading, or would like to read. With our constant-on digital lifestyle it can feel hard to focus on a long piece of writing (or even a short one, for those of us that are easily distracted). It’s like a bin that you can throw words into and retrieve at any time.
Adding Items to Your Queue
Adding something to Instapaper is as easy as hitting the Share button in most applications. It’s rare to find an app that doesn’t offer support for Instapaper in some capacity, but there are a few standout items.
For those of you with RSS feeds, nearly every feed-reader worth its salt out there will support adding items to Instapaper. My personal favorite, Reeder, has this option on every platform and makes it available with one click on the Mac.
Another popular source is Twitter. Links get shared every day (every second of every day, I’m sure) and we need a place to store them. Almost every Twitter client supports sending an article to Instapaper, and I’ve never had problems with Tweetbot or Twitterific.
For those of us who spend our time with our noses stuck in a browser, Instapaper has a handy bookmarklet that works with every modern web browser on the Mac or PC, and is also fully functional with Mobile Safari. Unfortunately there is no official extension that offers this functionality for people who hide the Bookmarks bar (like myself) but there are plenty of unofficial third-party options.
The iPad Interface
The biggest change with this update is Instapaper’s interface. While before the iPad app looked like a blown-up version of the iPhone app with little customizations, 4.0 introduces an interface that feels much more natural on the iPad.
Items are now displayed as a grid, similar to a real-world newspaper. Not only does this look more attractive, but it also makes it easier to remember what a specific item in your queue is. Each item is also actionable directly from the home screen, allowing you to delete, archive, or like an article without jumping into the reading view.
There’s also a new persistent sidebar (reminiscent of the Twitter, Reeder, and Facebook apps) that allows you to easily navigate between folders, the Archive, and articles from your friends (more on that in a bit). This new sidebar is a more radical departure from the previous app, which required a top navigation bar and looked like the standard interface elements from Apple’s iOS guidelines.
All in all I liked these interface changes. While I experienced dissatisfaction with Instapaper before this update simply because it felt like its interface was hindering its real functionality, this 4.0 update is very well designed and everything just makes sense.
What Are Your Friends Reading?
One of my favorite features of Instapaper is the ability to add ‘friends’ from Twitter or Facebook (or, if you happen to know their username, directly from Instapaper). This is an almost silent social network, with no way of finding out if someone has added you, whether you like the same things, or even if anybody is following you at all.
Before the 4.0 update this was limited to viewing items that your network has liked. This requires an action on their part, and if someone doesn’t like something for a while it’s easy to forget that you have even added them. Instapaper now has an easy, manageable solution for this.
See, most items that populate Instapaper are bound to pass by on Twitter at one point or another. We naturally share these things, and I find it hard to believe that anyone with an Instapaper account would use a Twitter app that didn’t allow you to share with Instapaper. This new version makes this even more seamless, and by adding your Twitter or Facebook account information you can view all of the links that pass through your social networks.
Sometimes this may feel like an overload, so it’s easy to view what other people have liked as well. You can browse your way, and it’s really easy to play around and see what works for you.
This next bit is a feature for subscribers only. In order to become a subscribing member you pay the low fee of $1 per month, an easy way to support an excellent service. Instapaper 4.0’s Search functionality is really just icing on the cake.
Now, Instapaper can search the full content of any article that’s saved to your account. Your archive is included within that search, but deleted items aren’t; they’re truly gone. How useful this is for you depends on how often you remember something that you’ve read, or need to refer to an earlier article for something that you’re working on.
Personally this may be an excellent feature, as my website often refers to previous articles. Now I can search something even if I’ve added it to the archives, and I don’t need to conduct a dozen frantic Google searches for a single article that I read a month ago.
Is It Worth It?
Instapaper 4.0 is, almost unbelievably, a free update. For users that have already paid for the iPad app this update is a serious no-brainer, offering a completely redesigned application from what you’re used to. It’s worth it for the new interface alone, and the ability to search your articles or view every link shared across your social networks are just great perks.
Now, it’s true that there are other applications that aim to give you the same thing that Instapaper does. For new buyers, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some shopping around before settling on Instapaper. In my experience, though, Instapaper is the application that is the most developed, and its developer has shown a clear commitment to the service while staying close to his customer base.
For the low cost of entry, I recommend Instapaper to anyone that has even a passing interest in reading. With so much content being added to the web every day, there needs to be a place to hold all of the words that we can’t sift through during our normal day. Instapaper is, so far, the best place for those words.