Opinion and commentary about Mac and iOS applications, publishing and content consumption behavior, web and cloud architectures
September 10, 2009

Frustrations with the iPhone Google Reader

I don’t know if I’m qualifying myself as a heavy reader, but I usually go through a few hundred news on a daily basis. I’ve been using Google Reader for a long time to manage all my not-so-dead RSS subscriptions. Even if most of the time I’m using a “fluid” version on my laptop, there are times when I’d really love to use it on my iPhone.

You know I love my iPhone. Unfortunately each time I’m using the mobile version of Google Reader my frustration growth exponentially with the time I spend using it. It is not because it is a bad application. In fact I think it is the best available for now and it has the potential of remaining the best.

The iPhone Google Reader version is missing quite a few critical features that are making it extremely unusable. And I’m not referring to any new features, but to those existing in the web application for a while. So, lets take them one by one.

Mark as Read/Unread

There is currently no easy way to mark an item as read or unread. The only way to mark a news item as read is to open it up. And to mark it as unread, you have to scroll to the bottom of the news and figure out how to click on that small check box reading Mark as unread.

I don’t think I’ll have to tell you how unproductive that feels when you have to do it over and over again.

The Google Reader team decided that instead of placing the Mark as read/unread close to the title, that space shoudl be used for placing the Star action. Now, I might not be an usability expert, but why would I need the Star functionality close to the title, when supposedly Starring means that I read the article and found it interesting?

Fixing this issue would be quite easy and would suppose replacing the Star action with Mark as Read/Unread. The Star action could be moved either to the other side of the title (GMail style) or at the bottom of the post. This UI change will be consistent with both other applications’ UI and other Google mobile apps.


Tagging is completely missing from the iPhone Google Reader version. Over the years of Google Reader usage I have built a large and consistent tag cloud (it’s hard to say how many tags there are in my cloud, but I’d estimate the number somewhere between 100-200). Now, this missing feature makes the mobile version almost unusable for me. Each time I’m reading an article that I’d like to tag, I have to either make a mental note or to use the star option in order to remember to revisit the article.

Google has already built tagging support in their mobile version (see GMail tags). I must confess that in my case simply having a text area similar to the one available for the Note action would be more than enough. Not having any tagging support is purely unpleasant, unproductive and frustrating.

Snippet preview

Google Reader uses the following rule for displaying unopened items: Title (optionally author name) plus the first line of text. As far as I can say snippet preview functionality is a meant to offer you a bit of information about the content so you can quickly decide if you want to continue reading or not.

Unfortunately on a mobile device, one line of text is most of the time equivalent with 4-6 words., so good luck figuring out if you really want to read or not the article. While I agree that displaying a full paragraph would clutter the interface, I’m pretty sure that 3 rows of text would be much more useful than the 4-6 words.

There are a few other things that I’d missing, but I’ll keep this post focused only on the major problems, hoping that the Google Reader team will make the mobile version usable and productive very soon.