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| May 27, 2009
Hidden Gems: There Isn't An App For That
This week's column features a couple nice little time wasters, but the real meat of this post is the complete lack of hidden gems in two essential categories - chat and feed readers.
So when Meebo finally debuts for iPhone OS 3.0 with push notifications, I'd be willing to bet it is not only the best chat app, but I also expect it to change the way we communicate in a fundamental way. It will be the beginning of the end for text messages (something I've been looking forward to for a long time).
Both AIM and Gtalk allow users to send and receive SMS/Text messages using instant messages. So, with Meebo on iPhone, you can be logged into every instant messaging protocol at the same time and send and receive text messages instantly through push notifications. This means every iPhone user could forgo paying extra for text messages.
I've emailed Meebo about this feature to make sure there won't be anything standing in the way of making this possible, but I have yet to hear back. Honestly, I'm a little concerned AT&T would disable this feature somehow because it would threaten their precious text message revenues. AT&T wouldn't be that greedy, would they? Would they?? UPDATE: I heard back from Meebo. It turns out Meebo doesn't send SMS messages through their chat service and they have "has no planned announcements for the integration of SMS into Meebo." However, sending and receiving text messages does work for AIM. So now I've asked them the same question. If nothing else, it means two chat programs will be installed on my phone come iPhone OS 3.0. One will be AIM and the other will be Meebo, logged into every service but AIM.
Now that's the situation with chat apps, but what about feed readers?
I've tried out Doppler ($0.99), iNews ($0.99 on sale), Pro RSS Reader ($1.99) and Byline ($4.99) and none of them come close to beating how easy and fast it is to use the Google Reader web app.
The problem with the web app is you can't read things offline or cache stories for later viewing. Offilne viewing is incredibly important on the iPhone. You might be traveling through a subway or on an airplane or not want to use the phone's slow data connection because you have an original iPhone or have bad 3G coverage.
Though the apps above have some pretty cool features, like the ability to Twitter a story you're reading as well as Instapaper and Read It Later integration.
Unfortunately, all lack speed and perfect Google Reader integration. The best of the lot was Doppler, which lets you choose individual feeds or folders from your Google Reader account. This is a great feature because you can manage the time it takes to download your items and, at the same time, weed out certain feeds because they make for better reading when you can sit down in front of a computer. For example, I don't necessarily need all my tech news with me wherever I go, so I can just stick with Gizmodo and leave all the others for when I get back to my computer.
At the same time the apps suck because you usually have to hit refresh before you close the app for the changes to sync to Google Reader. This is not very intuitive and again compares unfavorably to the Google Reader web app.
Anyway, I'm sure there are more categories that still don't cut it but these are the ones that bug me every day. Let me know in the comments if you know of any hidden gems in these categories that answer my gripes or if you have any other app categories that you're unsatisfied with.
Now, onto a couple time wasters.