Betaworks Releases Instapaper 5

Last week I acquired access to the Instapaper beta prior to its launch alongside iOS 7. I chronicled that story in I Finally Understand Bias. Since then, I have put off writing about the beta for a number of reasons: as a beta, the onus would have been on me to explain every single aspect of the new design or include numerous screenshots. Unlike the Federico Viticcis of the world, I did not find that prospect particularly appealing. More importantly though, I did not — do not — consider the app ready for widespread use, and at the very least not worthy of a version increment. iOS 7 or not, I am of the opinion that Betaworks should have forgone releasing Instapaper 5 quite so soon.

As many have already pointed out, Instapaper 5 is little more than a facelift instead of the complete rewrite so many other app makers have chosen to undertake in preparation for iOS 7’s release. With the exception of new sorting options, a few additional gestures, and the ability to filter articles based on supposed reading time, Instapaper 5 is, for the most part, the same app Marco Arment sold Betaworks roughly four months ago. Sure, Betaworks revamped the interface and refreshed the icon, and both are welcome and very attractive improvements, but look any deeper than these superficial changes and Instapaper remains, for better or worse, the same app we all know and love.

Earlier today, I came across a tweet Jeff Rock made just before iOS 7 dropped, which Marco Arment retweeted: “I’d rather see your iOS 7 redesign in November than see your half-assed reskin in September.” I wouldn’t go so far as to call Instapaper’s redesign a “half-assed reskin”, but I can agree with the sentiment he expresses. Tapbots, at the opposite end of the spectrum, chose a completely different route: “Our iOS 7 versions are running a bit late, but we promise they’ll be worth the wait.” I would have much rather waited until November for a version of Instapaper that could blow me away than have Instapaper 5 as-is just because Apple released iOS 7, and I’m sure the vast majority of Instapaper’s user base would agree with that sentiment.

I understand the desire to have a new, revamped iteration of Instapaper available as soon as iOS 7 hits the market, and the potential disadvantage passing up on this opportunity could bring. As Marco said in Fertile Ground, iOS 7 presents an excellent opportunity for newcomers to challenge incumbents in the app space and gain significant market share. I also understand, however, that Betaworks made the conscious decision to release a product before it’s time because of an artificial deadline. Unfortunately for Betaworks, I believe many others will come to this same conclusion.