People that use RSS often use web-based readers such as Google Reader, Bloglines or NewsGator to view their news feeds. The first two choices are great, but NewsGator has something special on the iPhone; a native app. That's right, no more web apps for RSS, the "news" has gone native baby!
NewsGator is a service for personal and professional social networking. They have different applications on many platforms that bring information together. Google has probably coined it best, "RSS is the inbox for the Web". Our focus in this review is with NewsGator's free, personal services for RSS on the iPhone.
NewsGator's web app for the iPhone is called... NewsGator, I know, original. This web app allows for users of the free NewsGator service to view their RSS feeds in an optimized format on the iPhone. Let's take a look at how it works.
After logging in, you are presented with your feeds, organized by folders (if you organized into folders via newsgator.com). For example, if you follow Apple news, you might want to organize your feeds by site in an "apple" labeled folder. The feeds are then listed by unread stories in that folder. You know how many stories are unread by a number appearing to the right of the feed name. For example, you might have a feed called "The iPhone Blog" and next to it, the number "7". That number means that there are seven stories that are unread since your last visit.
To view the unread stories in a news feed, simply tap the feed name and the stories will be displayed. Depending on your iPhone's Internet connection (EDGE, 3G or Wi-Fi) it can take a couple of moments for the stories to appear on-screen.
For each story, you have four choices available to you; first, you can click on the title of the story. This will cause Safari to open the original post in a new page. Second, you can mark a story as "read" by tapping the word "Read". Once done, the story will be removed from your list. Third, you can tap "Clip". Clip allows you to save a story for viewing at a later date. Forth is "Email". Tapping this link will cause the Mail app to launch with information about the story and a link to send to friends. Of course, you don't have to mark every story read, you can click the "Page Read" link at the bottom and top of the webpage to mark all stories on that page as read.
The portions of information presented in the feed are usually small; just enough to whet your appetite for more information. NewsGator has given you a great option for viewing more information. At the bottom of each story there is a "More" link. This link will expand giving you more text and typically a graphic or picture, if one is associated with the feed. Of course, this will also cause the page to load more slowly as additional text and images are rendered on the iPhone's screen. Once you have read the feeds, where do you go? Have no fear; NewsGator has a "Feeds" link located at the top left-hand corner of the page. Tapping this link will take you back to other stories you have not read yet.
Though the NewsGator web app is nice, why not take it to the next level? NewsGator has a native reader for the iPhone called NetNewsWire. It takes your NewsGator feeds and places them in a very Apple-esque format. Once you launch NetNewsWire, it immediately begins to synchronize your news feeds and your read/unread counts.
There are a few advantages beyond the basics for the NetNewsWire native app on the iPhone. For example, one common annoyance on the iPhone with 3rd party apps is when a native app calls on another app. The native app closes and the "called" app opens. This can be very inconvenient. NetNewsWire for the iPhone is able to work around this issue by allowing its own WebKit-based browser to open and overlay the story. What does this mean for you? If you want to read the story in "Safari", you don't have to close the native app! Instead of launching Safari, NetNewsWire creates a window that slides down from the top allowing you to view the post in full HTML. You don't have any of the Safari-specific features such as bookmarks in this view, but that is OK. If you really need to open the story in Safari, there is a convenient Safari button located on the bottom right of the page. This will close the native app and open the requested webpage in Safari. This feature is also useful because not every publisher chooses to post their full story in their RSS feed. Often, the user has to go to the publisher's site to view the full article. The slide-down window makes this process much, much easier.
As great as the web and native apps are for viewing your favorite RSS feeds, there are still some limitations. One particularly glaring omission is the ability to manage your feeds. For example, let's say you found a website on your iPhone that you would like to add to NewsGator or NetNewsWire. Neither app allows you to add it on the fly. The only way to do this is to go to newsgator.com and add it the "long way". It would be much more convenient to add it when the need arises.
Another issues when a story is highlighted, you can't tell how many unread articles there are for that feed. The blue reticule is the same color as the unread count; oops.
Both apps really do a great job of viewing feeds on any speed network and they are an excellent alternative to Apple's .Mac Reader (are they going to change that name? Someone must have forgot...) on the iPhone. The syncing capability is awesome and flawless. Once the native app has matured and gives you the ability to add your own feeds, this will almost become a no-brainer. Of course, until a Google Reader native app becomes available... oh wait, there is one, err... um... that will be another review.