It can be hard when a tool or service you love suddenly changes on you. Such was the case yesterday when ReadItLater, an excellent service for saving content for later perusal, morphed itself into Pocket. I've been a die-hard ReadItLater user for quite some time (using it on Android devices), so I suppose it was inevitable that the change would hurt.
For those who missed it, ReadItLater was a service that let you bookmark content either from a browser (via a bookmarklet) or via the Share interface on your mobile device (iOS or Android; this much hasn't changed with Pocket), then read it later (on your mobile device or in a browser). When reading you had the option of reading the content as a full web page or stripped down to just the text and relevant images of a piece of content. Similar products include InstaPaper and Readability. This is the only way to read long-form web content, in my opinion.
Pocket still does what ReadItLater did, only with a much more complex UI. Instead of the clean, compact list of headlines that ReadItLater provided, Pocket lets you choose between a list or an arrangement of tiles. Even the list view includes tiny image thumbnails, and the tile view includes titles of more than one size, for reasons only Pocket can explain.
It does make for a more visually pleasing browsing experience, but I have so many apps that try to turn content into a magazine now (apps like Pulse, for instance) that I'm not sure I need another one. I really liked having a simple, information-dense list of article titles. Now even in List view I only see 12 headlines on a 10" tablet screen. It makes scanning your list of headlines a lot slower (if, like me, you have dozens and dozens of things saved).
You can filter your content to show only articles, videos or images. Choosing videos lists both videos you've bookmarked and articles that have video embedded in them. If the ratio of video to article is large enough (for instance, you bookmarked a YouTube page), the thumbnail in Pocket will have a Play button. Otherwise you'll have to load the article, scroll around to find the video and play it from there. Video in general works best when it's coming from YouTube or Vimeo. A few sites I visit that host their own video don't work, though you can always opt to open content in a browser.
The images option is even pickier. I tried saving an image from a .jpg file open in a browser tab but Pocket ignored it. I tried saving a image from a Google+'s Photo page, but just got a generic Google+ page. Finally I tried Flickr and from there I could save an image.
But I used ReadItLater — and will use Pocket — for reading content and the new app still excels at this. First of all you can read articles while offline; a godsend for those of us with Wi-Fi tablets who find ourselves away from a hotspot. When it comes time to read an article, you can choose nighttime mode (light text on a black button), toggle between two fonts and turn justification on and off, tweak font size and adjust brightness. It seems like more than enough customizability to me.
Overall the new app definitely looks prettier for sure, and that will no doubt make it more popular. Plus it's free now (the ReadItLater app had an associated one-time cost). If what you want to do is bookmark a bunch of stuff and then kind of browse through it all, Pocket will probably seem awesome for you. But if your main concern is just reading through your daily list of articles then you might feel, like I do, that all these fancy new-fangled features just get in the way.
I can't blame ReadItLater for rolling out this more elaborate version of its service — they definitely have set themselves apart from InstaPaper and Readability with this change — but that doesn't mean I have to like it, darnit! [I kind of feel like an old man sitting on my porch, waving my cane and grumbling about the darned kids on my lawn.]
I do wish they'd make two changes though. Let us toggle off the thumbnails in list view so we can get more headlines on each page. And second, move the "Sort by Newest/Oldest" toggle out of the settings and somewhere into the main interface so we can switch back and forth easily.
I've grumbled a lot in this post, but honestly I don't want that to dissuade anyone. Pocket is still a very convenient service, even if I did like the old app better. To end on a positive note I'll say that the new Pocket web interface is a huge improvement over ReadItLater's. Everything about Pocket is free, so if you're curious, give it a try!
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.