A coffee table book of the internet
There's a corner of the internet that I'm aware of but cannot fully understand. Just like with Digg some years ago, 'the front page of the internet' Reddit has always appeared too messy and overwhelming for me to have a serious chance to appreciate it. In my previous attempt to give it a go, I installed Alien Blue. This is an iOS client that, for starters, changes the layout and that peculiar web design I always found so confusing. Now I'm being pitched an iPad app for serious users that looks so different that I really want to give it a try.
Biscuit by Matthias Tretter is a Reddit client focused on comments. Unlike the threaded layout on the web version, the app uses columns to organise comments and replies in some type of tree hierarchy that works and it's easy to understand. Swiping up or down shows the current discussion, keeping replies to a single comment hidden on the right. This structure allows you to drill down if you want without cluttering the flow of the conversation. For someone who doesn't use Reddit regularly, let alone participate, I can still see how this can be a massive improvement and make for a very relaxed reading with an iPad. Apparently, there's some university study that says this kind of layout encourages engagement too.
Plenty of white space
What initially got me interested in Biscuit is the minimal interface, which uses some of the iOS 7 design principles we are growing more accustomed to. Using in on a large iPad, the information is presented clearly thanks to wide empty margins and plenty of space between entries.
The most characteristic design decision is the colour scheme where white backgrounds predominate with a translucent navigation bar — all the way to the top — in a golden biscuity colour. This shade of beige is used throughout in titles, comment counts and other items that require interaction. This basic colour scheme works well to present the content on a custom font I cannot identify. It generally uses black for legibility, dimming the unrelated comments to grey to give a visual trace of what the replies are coming from. Note: the font is actually Ideal Sans, which will be familiar if you use Gruber's Vesper. This was a choice of the designer Thomas Pamminger after some iteration with other popular fonts.
The white space is also great to highlight multimedia content, although I think the animations used are a big heavy-handed. Little details like pinch to zoom is not as convenient as I would expect, making it difficult to read images unusually long like this one.
Without iconography to guide you, all the interactions are based on advanced two-finger swipes — single finger swipes are used for drilling down trees and scrolling vertically. The 'back' function is the same standard left swipe you get in other iOS 7 ready apps. A quick two-finger swipe up or down is an upvote or downvot respectively. Tap and hold is used to reveal more options, return to the top level with a two-finger swipe to the right while doing so to the left is used to write a reply. All these are quite cryptic but well explained on the Biscuit app subreddit http://reddit.com/r/biscuitapp. Like any other custom gestures, the trick is to remember how to use them, as there are no hints that suggest when and how you can use them.
Biscuit does a great job pulling all the Reddit content you want and presenting comments in a clear layout. It allows to immerse yourself in the discussion without the constrains of the web quote system. Developer Matthias Tretter worked with Wollzelle and Peter Purgathofer to make a different, more approachable Reddit, which I also find very classy. There are fantastic pro features such as Markdown support, background pre-loading and special formatting on friend's comments when logged in which are beyond my scope; for me the highlight is that Biscuit makes Reddit a less alien, friendlier place.