iOS Alternatives to Google Reader

February 23, 2012

Last Fall, Google made some significant changes to Google Reader, triggering hundreds of Google-Reader-enabled apps to issue updates to work with the new behavior. This caused Brent Simmons, creator of NetNewsWire, to worry about the fragility of Google Reader as a sync platform:

But Google Reader has just changed, and some syncing RSS readers will lose some features, and I take that as a reminder that it could change in a way that breaks syncing, and Google would not have broken any official APIs.

I’m not an RSS reader developer any more. But if I were, I’d start looking for an alternative syncing system right now.

Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, also responded, unhappy with the state of things but with an optimistic outlook for the future:

The bad news is that there really isn’t an alternative RSS sync platform that I know of. The good news is that I don’t think there are any significant barriers to creating one, should it become necessary.

These changes in Google Reader did not affect me much since I did not use the sharing feature, however, more recent Google actions related to privacy have caused me to begin searching for alternatives for all of their services, including Google Reader. To my surprise, Reader is proving to be the single most difficult service to replace. It has a highly entrenched position due to the fact that so many mobile feed reader apps use Google Reader as a back-end for synchronization across multiple devices. Indeed, there seems to be no good alternative.

There, however, a few iOS apps which either work exclusively in a standalone fashion or for which synchronization via Google Reader is optional. This includes NetNewsWire for iPhone and iPad, NewsRack (and NewsRack for Mac), and The Early Edition 2 for iPad. Alternatively, there are also a few apps that provide their own sync back-end, such as Pulp (and Pulp for Mac) and Pulse for iPhone and iPad. While these are all useful alternatives, relatively speaking the selection of non-Google-Reader apps (especially ones that sync) is still fairly limited and there is certainly no unified sync platform that can compete.