Readability: A Clean Look at the Web

We’ve come to the conclusion, as users of the iPad, that the device is second to none for content consumption. The experience of sitting back with a sleek, light tablet in hand, yet being able to access a world of content is something that Apple has touted ever since the iPad launched. There’s a good chance you might be reading this very post on your iPad (I’m writing it on mine).

While the web hosts an incredible selection of content, a lot of it is cluttered in advertising and other stuff you simply don’t care about. When I’m reading an article, the content is what I care about it. Readability is a web service with a fairly new iOS app that puts content in a clean, comfortable reading view.

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The Readability Way

However you use Readability, you’ll always end up with the same result, the specific article of content extrapolated into a single column, minimalist design with none of the clutter or other content of the original website. However, there are two approaches to bringing content to that view.

The first is simply by opening up the Readability app and accessing a webpage in the in-app browser. The browser is very simple, with just an address bar and back/forward buttons. From here, there are two buttons, “Read Now” and “Read Later”, with the former instantly taking that content into the Readability-designed view.

The Readability browser, with buttons for instantly converting content and for saving for later.

The Safari browser plugin for Readability.

The second option, and the one you’re most likely to use is the “Read Later” function, which adds that specific webpage to your Readability Reading List, a universal directory of “saved” content to be read later on any platform. For example, I could find an interesting blog post while on my Mac, add it to my universal Reading List through the browser plugin, and then open it in the iPad app. If I were to use Readability on a regular basis, this would likely be the setup I’d use it in.

If you take your Readability experience off your iPad and into your desktop browser, you’ll notice there are a number of additional methods of adding content to your Reading List, such as through a unique email address.

The reading list of Readability.

The Cleaner Web

However your Readability Reading List is built up, you’ll eventually accumulate content in the iPad app. The app launches straight into your list so it’s incredibly easy to dive right into an article, utilising that redesigned, clean interface.

Something I love about my iPad in general is that you always focus on a single piece of content. When I write a review or editorial, I love doing so on my iPad because the screen is dedicated to just that content, not any of the other clutter that resides on my Mac desktop. I find myself more productive, and immersed in what I’m writing with this approach. This experience translates well into content consumption, where, when you give exclusive access to your display to your content, it’s a lot easier to get deeply absorbed into the piece.

Reading an article in Readability.

Readability uses large serif fonts which can, in a lot of cases, increase readability (?). There’s little else to say about the app, and its minimalist approach contributes to a pleasingly simple and straightforward experience. It’s a perfect example of where less is more.

The Competition

There’s an increasing level of competition in this area, even from Apple themselves. With iOS 5, Apple introduced Reading List alongside the “Reader” feature in Safari. Essentially, this is the same setup as Readability, except more deeply integrated into the operating system. Apple’s setup allows you to add a webpage to your Reading List from any of Apple’s platforms, and pick up the items from any other device. It gives access to a clean reading pane by hitting the in-browser “Reader” button.

Apple's Reader within the iPad's Safari app.

However, services like Readability offer a wide range of platform availability so you’re not confined or limited when you’re outside Apple’s ecosystem. For example, iPad users who have an Android phone can enjoy this type of functionality with Readability, but will not have access to it on their phone if they opt for Apple’s system.

You’ve almost definitely also heard of Instapaper, which is a close competitor to Readability. Instapaper offers a similar set of features, with “read it later” saving and a very similar minimalist reading pane. However, you’ll run into a $4.99 cost for Instapaper whereas Readability is free.


Like I said before, using Readability or a service like it can really help you to focus on a specific piece of content. It really highlights how a platform that doesn’t have the same type of multitasking as, say, a traditional desktop OS can produce real benefits.

Whether you choose to use Readability, or opt for another solution, the setup is definitely one you should try out. Accumulating articles over a period of time and then catching up with them in Readability is not only a better reading experience, but also an effective way of actually staying up-to-date – with Readability at your side you’ll never miss a piece of really great writing.


Readability turns any web page into a clean view for reading now or later on your computer, iPhone or iPad. It also allows you to catch up reading that you've saved with the free Readability add-on for your web browser.