Competition: Doing it Right

Marco Arment:

When Readability launched their competing app last week, their custom fonts received high praise and Instapaper’s looked pretty tired by comparison.

I could have interpreted this defensively and complacently: “Georgia and Verdana are great, versatile, highly screen-readable fonts! I don’t need to do what competitors do! Newer isn’t always better! My crusty old fonts have some technical advantage that you don’t care about!” And so on.

That would have just made me look stubborn and out of touch, failing to understand (in fact, trying very hard not to understand) why newer fonts could be attractive to customers, and failing to admit that I should have done it first.

Instead, I’m taking this misstep as a wake-up call: I missed an important opportunity that’s necessary for the long-term competitiveness of my product. So I’ve spent most of the last week testing tons of reading fonts, getting feedback from designers I respect, narrowing it down to a handful of great choices, and negotiating with their foundries for inclusion into the next version of Instapaper.1 And the results in testing so far are awesome. I wish someone had kicked my complacent ass about fonts sooner.

First Reading List pretty much stole his app line-for-line, and now the sketchy-but-well-executed Readibility is out for iOS. Somehow, though, this one-man article-optimizing army doesn't seem fazed. Great guy, great app, great attitude. If you read long-form articles on your iPhone, you owe it to yourself to spend the $4.99 on it.

Related: Instapaper Placebo. Love it!