Developer: Glasshouse Apps
Price: $4.99
Version Reviewed: 1.01
Device Reviewed On: iPad

iPhone Integration Rating: ★★★☆☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★★☆
Re-use Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

It’s no secret that Apple intends for the iPad to become a new and revolutionary way to consume media. Some of this functionality has already been realized, or at least hinted at, in apps such as iBooks, USA Today and the New York Times Digest, but these are still more or less proof of concept apps and not the fully immersive experiences that may eventually evolve on the platform.

Now The Early Edition has appeared in the iPad app store, and with it comes the promise of a newspaper style interface for RSS reading/aggregating on the iPad. The notion of changing what users should expect from a feed reader is certainly nothing new. Since the inception of feed aggregators, little has changed about most them from a stylistic or user experience perspective. Predominantly, their look and feel has been similar to mail clients.

Fortunately, several feed readers have appeared on the desktop scene in recent years to update the user experience of RSS readers. Times is one, for Mac OSX, and GreatNews is another for Windows. Both eschew the rather stodgy presentation of the classic reader for one that attempts to mimic the experience of reading a newspaper. In other words, they focus more on the experience of reading than on the processing of sheer data. What better metaphor, then, to transfer to the iPad, a platform that screams for serious content presented elegantly?

With The Early Edition, developer Glasshouse Apps has taken the Times/GreatNews idea and translated it for the iPad. Early Edition represents a step forward visually and aesthetically for mobile RSS readers, even if it is lacking in many of the core features many users expect. If Apple designed an RSS reader, it would probably look an awful lot like The Early Edition.

Central to The Early Edition’s appeal is its user interface. And unlike many iPad apps, this one is really meant to be used primarily in portrait mode, emphasizing the newspaper-like quality of the experience. Rather than the typical list of feeds on the left hand side of the screen and list of items in each feed on the right, Early Edition custom formats the latest stories using a newspaper motif. You can read and scroll through stories from this main page (which can unfortunately be a little cramped, even if the scrolling is smooth), or you can click a story title and get a full view of the story on a separate page. Each time you launch the app, it loads in the latest stories from your chosen feeds and formats them into the latest edition of your custom newspaper. The result makes for comfortable reading, and the interface is elegant, yet unobtrusive.

While The Early Edition shows a great deal of ergonomic and graphical prowess, early versions of the app still lack features that should be standard in any RSS reader. Users cannot import their feed lists from other aggregators via OPML, so transferring subscriptions is a needlessly labor intensive process. Likewise, there is no syncing with online services like Google Reader, which can be a deal breaker for some users. Compounding these deficits is the fact that there is currently no way to mark an item, or an entire feed, as read. The Early Edition merely pulls the latest items from each of your subscriptions. It doesn’t take into account if you have already read these items or not. At this point in its development cycle, the app focuses more on the quality of the experience than the quantity of items available at any given time.

Fortunately, the developer intends to address these issues in future releases, and The Early Edition has gotten enough good press to warrant additional development time. I have no doubt that future iterations of the app will correct many of the obviously missing features and help make this one of the best options for reading feeds on the iPad.

So the big question is, is it worth spending $4.99 on an app that is still early in its development cycle? The answer is yes if you are looking for a new, unique and eye-catching way to catch up on the latest news via RSS (and don’t have too many feeds to manage). The answer is no if you are looking for any advanced features or the ability to manage and sync with Google Reader. Either way, I recommend keeping an eye on this app as it continues to grow. There’s no doubt that The Early Edition is a move in the right direction.

Posted in: iPad Apps and Games, iPad News, Reviews

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