Monday, November 5, 2012

Pocket Stretches to the Mac

Pocket is a Mac OS X app by Idea Shower available free from the Mac App Store.

The single feature I like most about Pocket, an app and online service that lets you snag articles online and save them for reading later, is speed. I've been using Pocket for iOS on my iPhone and iPad for months, and the interface is clean and the action is all fast.

Pocket The Mac OS X version of Pocket

Idea Shower has created a native Mac OS X version of Pocket, thereby extending the Pocket-accessible universe.

The basic Pocket premise is simple: Anywhere you go on the Web, you see content that you want to save or read later. Pocket lets you snag that content virtually and put in your Pocket, so to speak. The way I use Pocket most is that I'll see articles I want to read but don't have time to read. So I click on a special "+ Pocket" button in my browser and put the Web page in my Pocket account. Later, when I'm standing in line, I pull out my iPhone, open up the Pocket app, and boom, there it is ready for me to read.

Most recently, I've been following the Microsoft Surface coverage online and quickly found half a dozen reviews and articles that I wanted to read, but just haven't had the time. So, boom, boom, boom, I pocketed them all. I'll probably end up reading them in the airport. Or maybe in bed. Microsoft is soothing at bedtime. Just kidding. Microsoft is not soothing. But you get the point. I do like to pocket a short fiction story every now and then, too, for bedtime reading.

Alternately, I'll run into motorcycle articles that I'll read, for example, but want to hang onto to have handy in case I want them for some future reference, like horsepower or curb weight. Pocket lets you do that pretty easily.

As Pocket users already know -- and non-users might expect -- there has to be a Web browser-based method of accessing your pocketed content, right? Right. Before this Mac OS X app became available last week, Apple-using fans could read and interact with their Pocket content via a browser. It's pretty functional, but it only works well when you're online.

Pocket apps let you download articles so they can be read when you're offline. What about videos? Most of the videos I run into aren't available for downloading and storing offline; but Pocket will remember them, of course, and let you view them from within Pocket if you're online. I've found the video experience to be less predictable, especially, for instance, when Adobe Flash is involved and you have to contend with staying up-to-date with Flash.

Setting up Pocket is easy. After you download and install the app, the best way to start pocketing content is to install the Pocket Bookmarklet to your favorite browser. Alternately, on the Mac, you could use a Safari extension, but I preferred to drag a little yellow "+ Pocket" button from the Pocket website to Safari's bookmark bar. After Pocket recognizes your account, all you have to do is navigate to a website article that you like then tap the "+ Pocket" bookmark and Pocket will save the page to your account. It's freaking easy.

As for the iPhone, there's a Safari Bookmarklet available for the iPhone, too, so you can browse and still pocket stuff.

To read your saved content, you can always go online, log in and view your content in handy little navigation squares from the website itself. That works. Apps are better for me, though, because they offer offline viewing as well as a reader mode that strips out all the superfluous Web page content, making the articles much more readable on the iPhone. Once you read something, you can delete it to make it go away forever, or you can tap a check mark to push the article off your reading list and send it your archives (in case you think you might want to revisit it).

Not all content, however, is easily translated to a text-based article format, so Pocket lets you load up the exact Web page from within the app. This is especially nice if you want to comment on an article or otherwise interact with the author or publisher. In the Pocket settings, you can choose to let Pocket decide which is better -- article or Web view -- which is the setting I use, so far to good results.

The only issue I've noticed so far is that it's not always clear which articles have been downloaded for offline viewing. To test this, I turned off WiFi and started clicking articles. If you click one that you haven't downloaded already, you get a popup message telling you it's not downloaded and you need to connect to the Internet.

That would be kind of irritating if you pocketed a lot of content then got on a plane or tried to relax somewhere without WiFi. So how do you download it? As near as I can tell, you have to click on the pocketed item and let it load into the Pocket app viewing pane. Once you've done that, it seems to stay downloaded for you for offline viewing, but there's no icon or indication that it's available.

If you can get your Pocket content via a browser, why not stay close to the original and just view all your pocketed articles from there? You can, but I like the app better because it lets me download the articles for offline reading or read them via the browser mode from within the app if I so choose. Plus, it's fast. I already said that, I know, but the app seems to make little actions like sending the title and URL via an email message to a friend fast and easy. Or to push it out via Twitter or Facebook. There's a few other features, like noting your favorites or changing the font size, but Pocket is not cluttered up with a gob of options most people won't use. It's uncluttered and I like that a lot.

Meanwhile, I also am appreciating the natural affinity I'm getting from iOS app developers who create a great app and then bring a version to the Mac, too. It helps build the Apple app-focused ecosystem and lets me use all my devices in similar ways so I'm not always transferring files or learning new interfaces or controls. A case in point is Colorstrokes for iPhone and also for Mac OS X. I reviewed it for iPhone back when it was still called Color Splash Studio for iPhone.

Another is Mint QuickView for OS X, which also has an iPhone counterpart.

All in all, Pocket for Mac OS X is everything you would expect if you already use Pocket for iOS -- it sports a similar but more expansive screen alongside similar navigation elements and features. And if you're new to Pocket, consider it if you're abandoning interesting content because you don't think you have the time available to read it. Your Pocket will always be there for you, full and ready for those quick five minutes that become available unexpectedly, like before meetings or appointments.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at

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