Article reading time in Pocket’s smartphone apps

Accele-reader - Power up your Pocket experience

I’m a heavy Pocket user, and a big fan of the service and their apps. However, lately I’d been feeling that Pocket had become more a never-again-opened archive of ‘articles I found interesting’ rather than ‘articles to read later’. My Pocket was bulging with loads of articles from years past by, many outdated, others irrelevant, a few real gems hidden under the tons of hay. It was time to act to save my beloved Pocket1.

After a bit of further study, and borrowing from the maxim – you improve what you measure – I decided that I needed two extra features:

  • Count of unread articles in my Pocket, and
  • Estimated reading time for each article.

Not finding anything on Chrome Webstore, or Android Play Store, that covered both these points in a single app, I decided to get my own hands dirty.

Last December I started work on Accele-reader for Chrome (formerly Pocket Plus). The target was to add to Pocket the few features that I’d been wanting for a long time (but were too trivial/off-focus for the product team at Pocket to develop):

  • Unread article count,
  • Estimated reading time for articles,
  • Trello-like article ageing,
  • Offline add-to-Pocket, and
  • Read a random article (from my then *huge* Pocket list)

Accele-reader was, for my own use, a big success. Article counts, offline adds, and random articles were a bonus, but colour-coded reading time estimates were a big, big win!

However, with the good came the bad – the reading time feature was so good, that I desperately started missing it on the phone app2. A number of users also wrote in asking if I could somehow provide the article reading times on the mobile apps as well. I wasn’t alone.

Last week, another user – Konstantin – wrote in with the suggestion of a clever work-around. And here it is – reading time estimates for articles, now in your Pocket phone and tablet apps!

With the latest update, the extension can add tags to your articles with estimated reading time. When you use the Pocket phone app, these reading-time tags appear below the article titles as a helpful indicator of the estimated reading time (sample screenshot below – pardon my choice of articles).

Reading time tags in Pocket for Android
Reading time tags in Pocket for Android

This solution isn’t perfect. It lacks the colour coding – green for short articles, yellow for medium, red for long reads – that’s available in Chrome on desktop, and may not work too well for people who use lots of tags. However, it’s the best solution we currently have, to bring article reading times to Pocket’s phone apps.

Since they are native to Pocket, the reading-time tags also work as expected when reading in a non-Chrome browser on the desktop. The AcceleReader extension smartly hides these tags when you’re using Chrome, instead using the better, colour-coded tags (screenshot below).

Pocket - reading times in Chrome on desktop
Pocket – reading times in Chrome on desktop

The setting to enable reading-time tags is switched off by default for the time being. If there’s no negative feedback for a little while, I’ll set that setting to default enabled for future users. In the interim, there’s also a ‘remove all time tags’ button available, in case someone tries and doesn’t like the new reading-time tags.

If you like having estimated reading time handy when choosing an article to read, spoiled by Medium or this extension on the desktop, then this latest update3 should be a really helpful addition.

 


Notes:

  1. Videos – the extension currently doesn’t include the play time of any embedded videos in the article reading times. This is another much requested feature, but not something that is supported out of the box by Pocket API.
  2. Chrome dependency – the processing of reading list, and addition of reading-time tags takes place in the background by Chrome extension. This means that while you can keep adding articles to the list on the mobile app, the reading-time tags will only be added to them if there’s a Chrome browser open with this extension installed and signed in.
    If you’re like me, that isn’t a problem. Between your office & home computers, there’s at least one Chrome window open 24/7. If not, the extension will tag any un-tagged items next time you open Chrome.

 


  1. Adding articles while offline was never a problem with the Pocket app on the phone – it’s a very basic, well-handled use case for any smartphone app.
    For unread article counts, I use this Android app. It’s a widget with your article count, that opens the Pocket app when clicked. I just replaced the Pocket app shortcut on my home screen with this widget. Works perfectly. 
  2. Version 1.0.0.4, for future reference. 
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