Reading Apps: Readability. Instapaper. ReadItLater. Evernote.

ReadabilityReadability is a handy tool that takes an article or web post, cleans it up, as the name implies to improve its readability, and displays it for you in your browser. They also gather up articles posted this way for you to read later, or to send to your Kindle. Aside from one-by-one viewing of a cleaned up article, the service has required a $5 monthly fee. In the process, Readability shares revenue with the content-providing publisher.

There are similar services, notably Instapaper and ReadItLater. Back in May, I wrote a blog entry comparing these two. I have still be passing back and forth between these two, liking Instapaper’s integration with Readability, and liking ReadItLater for the cleanliness and usability of its website.

Both Instapaper and ReadItLater have mobile apps. Both were integrated with the incredibly popular iPad app Flipboard. One differentiator for Instapaper was a close integration with Readability.

On November 16th, Readability announced a free option, as well as the impending release of apps for the iOS platforms (iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch). Here is a summary of the new Readability freemium pricing model, with $5 a month getting the premium plan:


Free users are limited to 30 Reading List articles and 30 Favorite articles; Premium users have no limits, and also can Archive articles, receive an automated daily digest to their Kindle (over wi-fi, and thus without additional costs from Amazon), and up to 70% of their monthly fee goes to authors and publishers.

The announcement led to a fairly public discussion between Instapaper founder Marco Arment (The relationship between Readability and Instapaper) and Readability founding partner Richard Ziade (Readability & Instapaper).

The space has gotten quite crowded, in fact, since Apple added a similar “Reading List” feature to its Safari browser. And the day after Readability announced its new pricing model and forthcoming iOS apps, Evernote launched a similar service, Clearly, as a Google Chrome app.

For me, ReadItLater has been the main application I have used for this purpose, because of the crisp, clean, and I would even say, beautiful design of their web site and apps. While I use Evernote almost obsessively, its tendency to grab everything, or inexplicable web page elements, has made it a frustrating experience.

Using ReadItLater, I have missed the Readability integration. Even with ReadItLater, I felt that Readability had a better interface.

With Readability going to the freemium model, I expect to use that more, and move away from Instapaper entirely. I will then be comparing ReadItLater with Readability once the Readability iOS apps are released, and with Evernote Clearly in Google Chrome. Those promise to have a high design aspect, with high-quality fonts. And of course, while I steered clear of Readability when it only had a paid model, freemium (as Evernote can attest) has a quality of drawing people in to get them hooked.

My summary of the scoreboard at this point is:

  • ReadItLater – First to market, in 2007, with a great user interface design sense.Still a major player.
  • Instapaper – Second to market, in 2008. Clean, but not stylish. A little nerdy as far as the design goes. Possibly suffering from a mortal blow from the one-two punch from Readability and Evernote this week.
  • Readability – Has the most beautiful design of the bunch. Set itself apart as with the combination of gorgeous design and a paid model, providing a compensation model for authors and publishers to offset what might be lost advertising revenue.
  • Evernote – Promises much needed cleaner imports of articles into its widely popular “memory” service.
  • Apple Safari – Handy, if you happen to be in Safari on the OS X Lion or iOS 5, but I don’t think anything but diehards Apple fanboys will use this as much as any of the others on the list get used.

[Updated on 13 December 2011 to correct some inaccuracies.]