The Many Faces Of: Instapaper
[In our series The Many Faces of, we compare a single app across multiple platforms to tell you which one has the better interface, features, and functionality. Only one app will emerge victorious!]
Marco Arment, the developer of the Instapaper read-it-later app and service, declared on numerous occasions that he was committed to iOS development and simply didn’t have the time to work on an Android version. After a bit of a public spat with Android app developer Shifty Jelly, Arment declared that he might find a third-party developer to work on an Android app for him.
Arment’s been working on Instapaper for iOS for years; Mobelux has had less than six months, and yet the two apps are already remarkably close in functionality. As a long-time iPhone and iPad user and a Kindle Fire owner, I downloaded Mobelux’s version so I could compare the Instapaper experience on Android to the original flavor.
The reading experience
Both apps offer both dark and light modes, so you read black text on a white background or (when it’s dark) white text on a black background. The iOS version also offers a sepia-toned color scheme, and will offer to automatically change themes based on the time of day. As far as I can tell, the Android version doesn’t offer any sort of auto-switching feature.
You can choose from six attractive typefaces (Elena, Lyon, Tisa, Ideal Sans, Meta, and Proxima Nova) on the Android version; the iOS version has those six fonts, plus six more (Verdana, Helvetica, Georgia, Hoefler Text, Palatino, and Baskerville).
Instapaper for iOS offers a pagination feature, in which the app breaks stories into individual pages. Then you tap or swipe in order to move from page to page, rather than doing the infinite-scrolling thing. It’s a nice feature and I use it all the time; the Android version doesn’t offer pagination, only endless scrolling.
While you’re reading, the iOS version of Instapaper automatically hides its toolbar and status information as you begin reading, and brings it back when you reach the end of the article you’re reading. You can also double-tap to reveal it. The Android app doesn’t work like that; you can double-tap to show or hide the toolbars.
Instapaper for iOS lets you select and copy text and even select words and define them in a pop-up dictionary. Instapaper for Android doesn’t allow text selection, so you’re out of luck. Both apps lets you share the article you’re reading with the usual social-media subjects, email links, open the original article in the browser, and the like.
There’s one huge advantage the Android version of Instapaper has over its iOS counterpart: Saving articles to Instapaper from a web browser. On iOS, it’s a gigantic pain. You’ve got to drag the Instapaper bookmarklet into your Safari bookmarks and sync it over via iCloud or go through an annoying process of adding it right on the device. It’s not friendly or easy.
In contrast, Instapaper for Android ties into Android’s systemwide sharing feature. On my Kindle Fire, if I’m reading an article and want to save it for later, I tap Share and then Instapaper. The page is automatically saved within Instapaper. It’s easy and natural.
Updating your articles
On iOS, apps are severely limited when it comes to running in the background. Apps that use Apple’s Newsstand format can update once a day in the background, but Instapaper isn’t a Newsstand app. Arment has implemented a clever hack that uses iOS 5’s geofencing feature to kick off an automatic Instapaper update whenever you arrive at or leave a particular location, like your home or office.
Android has no such limitations, and it’s used to the advantage of the Android app: You can set Instapaper for Android to update automatically in the background every hour, every 12 hours, or daily—or, of course, only manually. It’s better this way.
The winner: iOS
The iOS version of Instapaper is time tested and it still leads in terms of features, mostly due to all the really nice touches in its article-reading mode. This is an app developed with a whole lot of care, and it shows.
That said, it’s impressive just how much Mobelux has implemented in such a short time. With a few more months of development, the Android version of Instapaper could best its iOS counterpart, given the Android features it can take advantage of that Arment simply doesn't have access to on iOS.