Considering Apple’s Motives for Safari 5’s Reader

Eliot van Buskirk at Wired suggests an interesting theory about Apple’s motivations introducing a feature in Safari 5 that eases the experience of reading on the web.  van Buskirk is one of a few questioning a less obvious ulterior motivate for the inclusion of the new Reader feature, based on the Readability project.  I wrote yesterday about Apple’s contemptibly weak attribution of this open source project.  The project’s goal is simply helping readers overcome questionable design choices for longer form content.  The Readability code and Safari’s Reader feature based on it eliminate all the distractions around an articles main text, which incidentally includes blocking ads.

It is this ad blocking aspect that has van Buskirk thinking that Apple has deployed it as much for easing eye strain as for gently nudging publishers into their App Store.  As he explains, Reader will block ads on the general web at the same time Apple is pushing advertising for custom applications on its mobile platform.  There is no mechanism for blocking ads on the iPhone and iPad so the implicit choice for content providers should be clear.

Ken Fisher at Ars Technica shares van Buskirk’s concerns but allows for an alternate interpretation.  Publishers who improve the reader experience around their content, with or without ads, will decrease the likelihood of a reader switching to an ad suppressing mode.  I think that is creditable and certainly resonates with defenses of existing, explicit ad blockers–make the content less distracting and more compelling then we’ll more willingly reward it with our attention, ads and all.

Fisher also explores how this move makes Apple’s claims about supporting an open and standards based web a bit harder to swallow.  Granted, Jobs has focused more on applications when cheering on HTML5, usually as an alternative for developers fed up with Apple’s draconian developer license.  My understanding is that neither Reader nor Readability will interfere with such web apps.  I will admit that Reader, along with the recent kerfuffle over Apple’s standards demo, does send an increasingly mixed signal about where they stand with regards to standards and coopetition with the other modern browsers.

One Reply to “Considering Apple’s Motives for Safari 5’s Reader”

  1. Do people really have so much disdain for Apple that they make up conspiracies like this? Reader is a great feature that helps tone down the cruft that distract from actually reading an article. It’s not an original feature; as you mention Readability predates it, as does Instapaper. Unless you think that Readability and Instapaper are also in conspiracy with Apple, it’s obvious that the explanation is much less controversial: people like products that make it easier to actually read articles on the web. There’s no nefarious conspiracy here, sorry.

    As for attribution, Apple credits Readability in the same way they credit other software code integrated in the browser: in the Acknowledgements window. This is no worse than scores of other software programs that also use open source components. Again, no controversy and no conspiracy.

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