Mobile device apps and desktop apps have similarities, but don’t always have the same capabilities. On a desktop, you have access to a keyboard and mouse, and considerably more screen real estate—things which you usually can’t count on having on a phone or tablet.
But sometimes, the mobile version of the app is the one that’s more capable. Here are a couple of cases in point.
First, there’s the matter of Feedly versus Press. Ever since Google killed its own RSS reader, I’ve settled on Feedly as the most capable solution for desktop RSS reading. But I don’t use its mobile version, because I find its interface to be pretty lousy. This wouldn’t seem like one of those cases where the mobile version is better, but the mobile RSS reader I do use, Press, is considerably better than Feedly in a number of ways.
One of the most important ways, at least to me, has to do with sharing links. Sometimes I see a story I find interesting enough to want to share it via Buffer, the multi-platform sharing service I use to share links I find interesting (and my TeleRead posts). With Press, I can do that easily, as part of the standard inter-app sharing built into the Android operating system.
But let me try to do it on the desktop with Feedly, using the share-to-Buffer icon temptingly placed as part of the three-dot menu at the top of each article, and it tells me I need to subscribe to a premium membership to get Buffer integration. Feh. As if I was going to want to pay extra to save myself the couple of extra clicks it would take to open the article in a new window and then use my share-to-Buffer Chrome plug-in. Yes, I did pay $2.99 for Press—a simple, one-time payment that’s a lot less than the the $5.41 per month Feedly wants to charge for a whole raft of premium features that I mostly wouldn’t even care about using.
But then, software-as-a-service seems to be the Big New Thing these days, even for applications that would make more sense to be buy-once-use-forever things. For example, that StoryShop app I mentioned the other day apparently wants to charge $10 a month for its notetaking and story brainstorming app because it’s going to run a cloud service that needs to pay for server upkeep. Why? If it simply saved its stuff to your own hard drive, you could put it in Dropbox or whatever other generic cloud-storage service you use, have it accessible from anywhere, but not have to pay yet another monthly fee. That’s how I use both Scrivener and Calibre, and I don’t even pay anything for my Dropbox.
But sometimes the two different versions are the same app, and it makes very little sense. I’m looking at you, Hulu. Lately, I’ve been watching episodes of Patlabor, a 1980s mecha police comedy-drama anime that was one of my first big fansub acquisitions in my college days. Back in the day, I had to obtain it through the expedient of low-quality multi-generational VHS fansubs. Now I can watch it subtitled via Hulu: the original OAV series, the TV series, the TV-series-sequel OAV, and the first theatrical movie (directed by Ghost in the Shell director Mamoru Oshii). I can even do it without commercials, since I sub to the $12-per-month commercial-free plan. (Something like this, I’m perfectly willing to pay a monthly fee for.)
I’ve been watching these shows, and my other weekly shows, across multiple devices—my PC, my Nexus 7, my Fire tablet—and I’ve noticed that it can sometimes be pretty hard to find the show I was watching on the Windows 10 Hulu app. When I launch it, it gives me several screens’ worth of “Now Streaming” recommendations—shows I don’t watch, and usually don’t have any conceivable interest in. If I scroll to the right (after I reach the bottom of those screens) I get to a section listing several categories—TV, Kids, Movies, Latino, Trailers, Queue, Clips—and mostly also things I don’t watch. Then I get to a section listing “Shows You Watch,” which lists TV series I’ve watched at least one whole episode of—but it doesn’t list new series I just started watching, or movies I might have been in the middle of.
In fact, even after I scroll right via a dozen more categories of shows I mostly have no interest in (with the exception of “Top Picks for You,” which is several more sections to the right), there’s not a section like Netflix has that lists anything I might be in the middle of watching right now. There’s nowhere to pull up my watching history.
But the mobile version has some important differences. For one thing, the “Now Streaming” section doesn’t take up the entire screen, and right below it are several rows of different categories underneath: first “Shows You Watch” and then “Top Picks For You.” And more importantly, there’s a hamburger menu in the upper left corner that includes, near the bottom, a “History” option showing everything I’ve watched recently. The Windows 10 app has its own hamburger menu, but only includes access to “App Commands,” “Share,” and “Settings.” No “History” anywhere I can find.
You could say that this might be because Windows 10 is a less mature operating system than Android, and they’ve had time to add more features to the Android version. And yet, even if you go to the web version of Hulu, which shares more resemblance to the Android than the Windows version, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of “History” section there, either. You’re left having to use the search box to find whatever show you want to find if it’s not already there on your list.
Why does the Android app have a history option when the others don’t? Beats me. But it’s just another reason that sometimes the mobile versions of apps have better features than the desktop versions.