I won't take the time to detail each and every feature difference between Instapaper and Pocket. That information is readily available in countless reviews and comparisons on the web. They are both "read later" services which allow you to essentially bookmark articles on the web to read at some future point in time. They both strip out the ads and make the reading experience much cleaner and more enjoyable for the reader. Macro Arment recently sold a controlling stake in Instapaper to Betaworks. I hadn't realized it until the sale, but a large part of why I used Instapaper exclusively was because I enjoyed the idea of supporting Marco's work. With the sale, I decided to see what the other major player in the space had to offer. Along the way, I stumbled upon another option that I found worth consideration.
Pocket has a lot to like. They have native Mac, Android and iOS app. Instapaper has no native Mac app, and the Instapaper web app leaves a bit to be desired visually. Pocket's apps on all platforms are free, which most people would see as a benefit. During the last few years, I've come to believe that if you are going to invest your time and attention into integrating an app or service into your workflow, you should understand the relationship you have with the person or company that offers the app/service. With Pocket, the fact that the service and apps are free concerns me. They have no clear business model that I have been able to observe. This leads me to a healthy suspicion that if I put all my "read later" eggs in Pocket, I may be in the position to have to completely restructure my read later workflow again in the near future. This would likely be due to them being acquired by another company, or deciding that making any revenue in this space was not worth the effort and closing its doors.
The interface of the Pocket apps is very clean, which I enjoy. Pocket allows you to organize articles through tags, versus Instapaper's folders. This took some getting used to for someone coming from Instapaper, but after a couple of days it was not a major issue. One annoyance is that the apps across the various platforms have slight differences in user experience that can sometimes cause confusion. Managing multiple articles at once, for example. The Android app offers a "bulk edit" feature that the Mac app does not. My brain has trouble accepting that a desktop application offers fewer features than a mobile variant.
For a moment, I carefully considered using Safari's Reading List feature instead of either Instapaper or Pocket. The advantages are pretty striking. It is baked into both the OS X and iOS operating systems since the Safari browser ships as the default browser on both. It is afforded system level integration that third-party services are not. Installing the "Read Later" bookmarklet for either Instapaper or Pocket is a pretty painstaking task compared to "Add to Reading List" in the share sheet in Safari. The bookmarklet installation in mobile Safari on iOS is even more of an Indiana Jones effort.
After much deliberation, there were three reasons I decided that Safari's Reading List just wasn't the right solution for me (though it would be a very viable one for many users):
- Reading List is only on Mac and iOS. I use an Android phone and a Windows computer at work. While about 85% of my reading happens on either my Mac or my iPad, I know I would miss the 15%.
- Reading List has no tag or folder organization methods. I archive very few of the articles that I read through any "read later" service, however, it is nice to have a method to organize the things that I feel have long-term value. The solution with Reading List would be to move any item to a bookmark service like Pinboard once it has been read. Pinboard has tags so it would not be a horrible work around, however, it seemed more complicated than either Instapaper or Pocket.
- Reading List does not format articles for "distraction-free" reading. Safari offers a feature called "Reader" that performs a similar function in this regard. What that means is that any time I would want to use Reading List + Reader to mimic the functionality of Instapaper/Pocket, I'd have to open the Reading List, click on the article, then move to the address bar and click the Reader button. That feels too much like work.
Back To The House That Marco Built
So, at the end of a month long journey to evaluate where my loyalties and preferences reside with regards to reading articles later, my choice is a return to Instapaper. I'll be deleting the Pocket apps from my various devices and re-installing the Instapaper apps. I'll miss the native app experience on my Mac (I'm aware of the Words app, but don't care much for it). I'll miss being able to put the same article in multiple categories via tags. What I will not miss is having the constant paranoia that Pocket is going to be sold or shut down tomorrow. I won't miss the lack of font and theme options (Instapaper really shines here). I won't miss wondering if Pocket is making money mining my reading habits and selling them to the highest bidder.
I don't know what the future holds for Instapaper either. The service was recently sold and the company that now owns the control of Instapaper's future, Betaworks, also bought Digg not all that long ago. They could decide to merge the two products or combine features across them that make Instapaper something different than what I want it to be. That's the risk I'm willing to take.