A large proportion of the information I consume on my mobile comes from two apps: The Economist (iOS, Android), and a whole lot of feeds via Feedly (iOS, Android). They both present text in narrow columns and share a lovely, simple navigation metaphor which unfortunately has recently broken (on Android at least).

In both cases, each story is presented in a single column that fills the screen from left to right and extends arbitrarily far down, as long as need be for the piece’s body. The stories are side by side. There are only two ways to navigate: Up or down the columns, and right or left between stories. Here’s a picture.

Columnar navigation

I’m sure other newspaper and information-dense apps must have adopted this metaphor because it’s just so intuitive. It works great on mobile because no matter how fat-fingered you are, the app only has to distinguish between vaguely-North/South and vaguely-East/West and the right thing almost always happens.

Now, there’s a subtlety: If you swipe left to go to the next story, you want to bounce up to its top. But if you swipe back, you almost certainly don’t want to bounce to the top of the previous story, because you already read that, and you probably are going back because you accidentally swiped while reaching for a drink, or realized a microsecond after you swiped that that paragraph was more interesting than it’d seemed when you launched your finger.

And if you’ve read a ways down story B and swipe back to A, then forward again to B, once again you don’t want to pop to the top of B. Which is to say, it should remember your scroll position, at least for the immediate predecessor and successor of whatever it is you’re reading.

And, both apps used to. But sometime in 2017 they stopped, snapping remorselessly to the top of whatever column you swipe to, forward or back. It’s annoying as hell; maybe because I often change my mind about leaving an article and decide to go back. And the fact that it happened in both the Economist and Feedly makes me wonder if something in the Android app framework broke.

So I’m not sure who I’m mad at; the developers of two of my favorite apps separately, or just someone in the Android group.

If you’re reading this and you think it’s you I might be mad at, well hey, no biggie, but please fix?



Contributions

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From: David Carlton (Dec 27 2017, at 21:59)

The iOS Feedly app started doing that earilier this year, and I was similarly annoyed; fortunately they switched it back maybe a month ago. So, with luck, it’s the app’s fault and Feedly on Android is behind iOS for some reason?

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From: Richard Smith (Dec 27 2017, at 22:47)

I don’t use the economist apps but use Feedly everyday for everything (including your blog) and I just tested this behavior on iOS. Works (still). Thank goodness. How annoying for you. Let the Feedly folks know? They are usually very responsive.

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From: Pete Forman (Dec 28 2017, at 03:44)

Along with many others I moved to Feedly when Google Reader was closed down. However on mobile I never got along with their app. The alternative I chose was gReader Pro to consume the Feedly content. Actually the free version worked well enough, it is one of the few apps that I have been happy enough with to upgrade to paid. There are other apps but a major criterion of mine is to be able to read the content offline.

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From: Eric D Hanchrow (Dec 28 2017, at 07:06)

I use "Palabre"; works fine.

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From: J. King (Dec 28 2017, at 16:13)

I don't use Feedly; I administer my own newsfeed sync server, by which I mean the software I wrote myself. On Android I use OCReader, and it operates in the way you would consider correct, Tim.

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From: Bob Monsour (Dec 28 2017, at 16:51)

I don't typically read the Economist on my iPhone, but just checked and it takes you to the top after reading some swiping to the next piece, and then swiping back. Can't tell if this is a change, as I read it mostly on my iPad or in print.

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From: Paul Clapham (Dec 28 2017, at 23:02)

I'm using Inoreader on Android and it works the way you (and I) would like.

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December 27, 2017
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