Pocket Will Have You Grabbing Content by the Handful
Apr 30, 2012 5:00 AM PT
I've been playing around with Pocket, a not-so-new app which may have undergone one of the smartest name changes in the history of the App Store -- previously Pocket was known as "Read It Later." The app basically lets you snag content that you find online and store it in a handy way for reading or viewing at some point in the future. Of course, the old name was accurate -- perhaps painfully, boringly accurate. And while I immediately knew what it was about and what it did, I somehow kept putting it off until later.
Pocket, on the other hand, has a key ingredient missing from so many apps -- a metaphor that your brain can latch onto, a way of thinking about Web content in terms of something you already know (your pocket), and a new brand that could squeak into verbiage like Google or Xerox, where the name becomes the action. I ran into an article about a bad boy gamer guy and caught myself thinking, "Hey, I should Pocket that."
No kidding. I haven't been using the app all that long, and boom, I started thinking about it in those terms.
How Pocket Works
Basically, you need to create a free account on the Pocket servers in the sky, which will serve as the connecting pin for all of your devices. You need an email address that you actually use (I'll tell you why in a minute), along with a user name and password.
In your Mac or PC Web browser, in order to quickly and easily grab Web pages and put them in your "Pocket," all you have to do is drag and drop a bookmark button that says "+ Pocket" to your browser's bookmarks bar. I used it successfully with Safari on a Mac.
As you browse the web and find an article or item you want to read later, simply tap the + Pocket bookmark button, and Pocket adds the item to your Pocket experience.
If you find a site or page or video, you can also email the link to firstname.lastname@example.org, and it will automatically add the item to your Pocket app experience. There is one gotcha with emailing links, though: Pocket has to recognize your email address and associate it with your Pocket account. So if you have multiple email addresses, it's important that you select and use the right email address or Pocket won't know what to do with the email you send.
While it's very easy to save from your browser on your Mac or PC, it's not quite as intuitive on your iPad or iPhone -- these devices seem to be more geared to the viewing portion, but Pocket is integrated into more than 300 apps, like Twitter and Flipboard and Pulse, which let you Pocket items after you set them up via the Pocket app itself.
Viewing Your Pocketed Content
Once you place items in your pocket, reading or watching them later is easy. From your Web browser, everything is like you would expect -- nifty modular panels that show you text and graphics of the content you pocketed. The experience on an iPad or iPhone is similar -- modular panels -- but the size and shape change due to the screen size and orientation. You've also got a boring list mode, but hey, it's highly efficient.
For Web pages that clearly have articles on them, tapping the item launches you into a "reader" sort of version that is just the text of the article with some photos. The rest of the page is stripped out. This makes for easy, clean reading. But what if you want the rest of the page? No worries. Tap a button at the top of the app and it will launch the Web page within the Pocket app as a browser-based page. Of course, many websites will recognize the device that you're browsing from and serve you up a mobile optimized page instead of their full website. In some cases, this is perfect for reading. In others, you just want the full site, but that's up to how the site is delivered by the site publishers rather than the Pocket app (or even your device).
The Pocket servers and the pocket app seem to be pretty smart -- they seem to be able to ferret out the right key element that you want to save for later. With video, this works pretty well with YouTube and Vimeo, for example, but not all Web video. For instance, some videos, which I'm guessing are Flash-based, won't show up in Pocket as available for instant built-in viewing -- you've got to launch the item as a web page ... and view the view from within the web page rather than as an extracted video experience. And similarly, some video that I can watch online on my Mac doesn't play on my iPhone or iPad. Still, there's a gazillion videos out there that will work great. And what do I mean by great?
There's a big play overlay button on the video content in the Pocket app, and when you tap it, you get the video goodness without the trappings of original website. Want to watch it on your HDTV with AirPlay and your Apple TV? There's an AirPlay button for that. Nice.
The only downside to video is that it's not available for viewing offline like the way you can view print content offline -- Pocket is automatically set up to download the reader view of a Web page, giving you access to it when you don't have Internet access. You can change this setting if you so desire.
More Than Just iOS
While I'm using the Pocket app for iOS, Pocket is also available for Android and the Kindle Fire, making the app even more valuable for tech lovers who span operating systems.
All in all, Pocket has turned into a very solid content collection app. It boasts fast response times and slick user interface. Perhaps more importantly, though, Pocket has found the best name to illuminate -- and promote -- the service it provides.