📒 NEW: 2022 Digital Planner: Made for iPad  →  Yes, Please!

Apps We’re Trying: Matter

App categories seem to go through rainy seasons and dry seasons — an entire category will go years without any major update, any major splash, or any major new competitor, then suddenly the entire category is uplifted from its roots and the cobwebs get shaken out. It’s quite the phenomenon to observe.

Take research and note-taking apps. For the longest time, we recommended Bear for typed notes and Notability for handwritten notes. Then, out of the blue, apps like Roam Research, Notion, Craft, NotePlan, Agenda, Obsidian, and GoodNotes seemingly sprung up out of nowhere to provide more choice than any note-taker could have dreamed of.

Same goes for weather apps back in the day, or Twitter apps, and even productivity apps (though it feels perhaps like GTD apps are due for an uprooting).

Read-it-later apps are having their day in the sun right now. Pocket and Instapaper have long, long, long been the best two options in this arena. There have been some great Pinboard clients as well, though Pinboard clients don’t see the type of updates we’d like anymore (9 months and 4 years respectively for Pushpin and Pinner, our former favorites.)

It’s high time for read-it-later disruption. Readwise is putting together its own read-it-later option that looks promising. We’ve seen numerous updates to GoodLinks, a simple light-weight link-saving option.

Today, we’re looking at Matter, a read-it-later app with a beautiful design and a social network element built in. I’ve been using Matter’s private beta for the last few months and the app has graduated to being one of my most-used iPad apps in that time. It has just the right number of features and sets the bar really, really high for Readwise.

Walking Around Matter

First things first: Matter is available only for the iPhone and iPad right now (and M1 Macs as an iPad app). Though available on the iPhone, Matter is best used on the iPad. There are other apps that are built only for the iPad (think Pixelmator Photo), and while Matter isn’t that, it’s the closest thing you can get to an iPad-only app that is also available for the iPhone.

Matter is designed as a modern read-it-later app, capable of storing Twitter threads, blog posts, random URLs, YouTube videos, PDFs, and more. The app has a phenomenal reading experience, a unique audio transcription feature, frictionless highlighting, and cool quote shots for sharing your favorite quotes and quips on Twitter.

There are a few branches to Matter that can be discussed largely on their own:

  • Discover
  • Inbox
  • Queue
  • Activity
  • Profile

These five branches are surprisingly mutually exclusive — you can use the Queue to save articles from across the internet to read later and you can avoid the Discover and Inbox branches entirely. You can even set the Queue to be your Start Screen.

You could skip the Queue branch (mostly) and use Matter as a place to receive and read all your favorite newsletters. You’d likely need the Queue view to uncover past highlights at some point in time, but you could use Matter not so much as a read-later app but as a newsletter reading app.

These different branches correctly imply how much Matter can do. In some instances, Matter can become confusing. If you can learn and understand what each branch of the app does, moving through Matter becomes a lot easier.

Discover and Inbox

The Home Tab in the bottom left navigation bar opens the Discover and Inbox views. In Discover, you can explore popular articles across the Matter community. These articles are algorithmically discovered and often come with a comment from another Matter user. This Discover tab is a goldmine for phenomenal writing and you could get lost for hours saving great writing to your Queue.

Tap Inbox (or tap the Home button again in the bottom nav bar) to jump to your Inbox. Here, you will find new writing from writers you follow, newsletters you’re subscribed to, and writers you follow on Twitter.

It’s that last option which caught me off-guard — by the time I had logged into Matter and started looking around, I discovered I had new writing already waiting for me. This is good and bad. Good: you’ll have great content ready and waiting for you the moment you start using the app. Bad: this may be the 5th spot you’re following this writer (in my case, I followed numerous writers in my Matter inbox already on Twitter, RSS, and subscribed to their newsletters).

Matter provides you a Matter-specific email should you want to move your newsletter subscriptions to the app. If so, new newsletter issues will show up in this Inbox and you can save them to your queue by simply swiping to the right on the newsletter in the list. It’s super easy to keep your newsletter queue to inbox-zero.

As a whole, the Discover and Inbox tabs are good for discovering new writing and ensuring you don’t miss your favorite writers. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many of “cannot-miss” writers who are available as a Matter subscription. I find myself using Matter more as a read-it-later app than a newsletter-reading app, as a result.

Queue, Highlights, Favorites, Recently Viewed, and Archive

One button on the bottom navbar to the right is the Queue button. Tap once on the button to go to your Queue and tap again to be met with a slide-in picker to move to any of the other views listed above. I greatly appreciate the way Matter uses double taps on icons in the navbar.

Your Queue is where you’re likely to spend most of your time. All your saved articles to read later are held in the queue. Swipe to the right on an article to move it to the top of your queue and swipe to the left to archive the article. The Queue also provides quick Shuffle, Short, and In Progress options to provide you with a random article to read, a short article to read, and an article you’ve already started, respectively.

Highlights houses all highlights you’ve made across all articles and views. Tap on an article here to open the article or tap on the small highlight button to view a quick slide-in of all your highlights in the article. This is one of my favorite features across the entire Matter app. The ability to quickly view all your highlights, be they summarizing highlights or highlights of your favorite phrases from the article, in one small window is invaluable.

The Favorites tab is a quick view for viewing any of your favorited articles. I actually had to look how to favorite an article when writing this section — I haven’t favorited an article yet. You can add an article to your favorites by tapping the “…” button when reading and selecting Add to Favorites.

Recently Viewed includes any articles you’ve, well, recently viewed. This could be in-progress articles, or could be old articles you uncovered and looked at in your Highlights view.

Lastly, the Archive tab holds all articles you’ve read and archived from your queue. I imagine this archive will get long and full after awhile, especially for heavy readers and read-it-laterers.


I spend most of my time in the Queue view working through articles, threads, and videos I’ve saved for later. To me, Matter is a read-it-later app. Again, you could skip out on Matter’s read-it-later features if you just want to use the app for reading newsletters. But you’d be missing out on the Queue and Highlights if that’s all you used Matter for.

🧠 New: To Obsidian and Beyond

Set up Obsidian the right way. And even make it dance…

Your access to this all-new, self-paced course will save you time, frustration, and missed opportunities. Made for beginners and pros alike.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
1,500 workshop customers, average 4.4 star rating.

Get Your Access »

Activity

The Activity tab adds a whole new and unique social element to Matter. Though I’ve lost a number of hours to the Discover tab already, it’s the Activity tab that unlocks more great writing in my queue than any other aspect of Matter.

If you navigate back to the Discover tab, you can tap on the search button in the right corner. Here, you can search for articles, writers, and other Matter users. If you follow another Matter user, any articles posted or highlighted by that user will show up in your Activity tab. It’s like a modern way of staying up to date on your friend’s bookshelf, but with a cool method to comment on those writings along the way.

There are two ways to put articles onto your followers’ Activity feed: by posting an article or by highlighting something in that article. Posting an article is done from the reading view — jump into any article from the Queue or your Inbox, tap the + button in the bottom right corner, and post the article to the Activity feed. You can also add a comment for your followers to see.

You can also post an article with a highlight directly applied in a cool side-feature. If you highlight a passage in an article (or if you tap on someone else’s highlight from an article you discovered in your Activity feed), you can tap the highlight a second time to unveil a window for interacting with that highlight. You can tap the + button here to post the article with the highlight as your comment. Though a little hidden, this is one of my favorite ways to showcase the best passage from an article to your Matter followers.

The Activity tab is plain old fun. Somehow, it finds a way to combine the discoverability features of Twitter with that back-and-forth link-posting bloggers used to do back in the blogging hay days. I discover more great writing in the Activity tab than any other source of content on the web. Full stop.

Profile

Lastly, your Profile is where you can view your article-posting and highlight-posting feed. You can use the feed to quickly see the number of highlights in your articles and to find the articles that resonated with you most. To me, the profile view provides a “best of” view of your archive.

Inside your profile, you can describe yourself, provide your location, provide a URL where others can find your own writing, and even provide a quick sign-up button for your blog or newsletter.

It’s within the Profile tab where you’ll also find the settings button. Inside settings, you can handle the following major elements of the app:

  • Connect accounts: At the time of writing, you can connect your Gmail account to move all your newsletters into Matter; you can connect to Twitter to find writers you already follow; you can connect Readwise to sync all your highlights to the service; and you can connect to Notion’s beta API for saving your highlights there. I’ve connected my Matter highlights to Notion, which has been hit and miss — highlights don’t always sync and I’ve had to delete the page in my Notion database and reimport everything from Matter to move all highlights over properly.
  • Push notifications: For being notified of the Weekly Roundup, new writing from writers you following, new followers, new replies, and new likes.
  • Connect web extension: Matter has a bit of a unique way for connecting Safari’s web extension on the Mac, so you’ll need to jump in here, uncover the QR code, and add the Safari extension through the settings page.
  • Add newsletters: You can use this option to add your Gmail newsletters to Matter or to find your Matter email address for subscribing directly to newsletters in Matter.

As a whole, these different branches inside Matter can be used largely on their own. Your own reading workflow will dictate whether Matter is a read-it-later app, a newsletter app, or a social network for commenting on your favorite writing. If there’s one consistent trunk to the entire Matter tree, it’s that writing is at the heart of every Matter feature. Every feature is designed to ensure you discover the best writing from the broad Matter user base, from your favorite and followed writers, and from your friends and followers. Every element is driven to showcase the best writing and for you to interact with that writing in your own way.

A modern read-it-later app, indeed.

Transcription

I mentioned above how I don’t use many of Matter’s newsletter features but hone in on the read-it-later element of the app. Another area I don’t use is Matter’s built-in transcription features. Simply put, every article can be read out to you using a fairly impressive transcription voice. If you don’t have time to read the article but prefer to listen to an article instead, this transcription feature is for you.

Just below the title of an article is a play button. Tap play and Matter’s transcription features will quickly load and begin reading to you. The transcription voice is really, really impressive — it appropriately breaks for breaths after commas, understands highs and lows in speech, and more. There’s a real podcast-y feel to this feature.

You can change a variety of the playback settings if you tap the player at the bottom the screen. You can jump forward or back, speed up the playback, and even set up your queue for Matter to continue reading to you after you’ve finished the current article. My favorite little feature here: Matter appropriately estimates how long it’ll take to read the article back to you, giving you an idea just how long you’ll need to listen to the article through playback.

In many ways, it’s like creating a podcast for a blog post.

Some folks will love this feature and others will find it unnecessary. I think it’s cool, but don’t use the feature at all. It is, however, heavily noted in Matter’s marketing page and user feedback section.

A Few Other Noteworthy Thoughts

As you can see, Matter is quite a big app. After a few months of use, it’s easy to have a variety of thoughts on each of Matter’s major features. Here are a few to wet the whistle:

  • There’s something about this Bookerly font that feels so right. It’s easy to digest. Your eyes flow into the next word with a sense of calm. It feels right.
  • Matter sports relatively few style customizations. You can change the Bookerly font to Merriweather or Literata or Poppins, but Bookerly is the best. You can increase font size and line height as well. Otherwise, Matter’s design is locked in.
  • Highlighting text is easy. Simply hold your finger down and drag across the desired text to highlight or grab an Apple Pencil and highlight the text instantly. There’s no secondariness here — you just highlight with the Pencil and never skip a beat. Highlight colours can be changed, but they are just the right transparency. Reviewing all your highlights in your profile tab is so sleek — I love how the highlight card slides up from the bottom of the display and brings your captured quote front and center. Highlighting text in Matter is plain fun.
  • The Discover and Inbox tabs can be quickly flipped between by multi-tapping on the home button in the bottom left navigation bar. Reader quotes are nicely highlighted using different shades of grey and you can reply to their quotes or like their quotes by tapping on the arrow or heart. Each article in the Discover tab is provided enough space to invite you in. Tap on the article and tap the bookmark in the bottom right corner to save it to your queue.
  • If you follow someone and they have already read and highlighted part of the article you’re reading, their highlight will be visible with a blue underline. You can tap on that highlight to highlight it yourself or add a comment to their highlight. It’s a cool social networking element.
  • Matter has this really cool text shot feature to showcase highlighted quotes on Instagram or Twitter. Simply tap a highlight and tap the multi-star button. You can style the text shot how you prefer and then share the image to your social network of choice. Creative folks may even want to use these features to jazz up their personal notes a little.

As of the time of writing, Matter is available on the App Store for everyone to try. The current version is what the team is calling a “public beta.” It’s clear an app of this magnitude is going to have a business plan of some sort (the Matter team also secured a series of funding), so I expect there will be a monthly subscription to commit to in the near future.

Matter gets many design elements correct. The app looks great, but it also operates great. This is an app you can easily get lost in.

Wrap Up

Given the detail in Readwise’s teaser blog post regarding their new Reader app, there’s a certain level of pressure on Matter. Many of these details need to be done right, and now, to ensure Matter can compete with Readwise’s app.

Matter gets a lot right, now, to be sure. The app’s design is noteworthy, specifically the lovely slide-in windows and menus. Transcription is likely to be met with applause by a specific crowd. The attention given to highlights and built-in integrations for sending highlights off to your note-taking service of choice is great.

And above all these is Matter’s social aspect. The Readwise team specifically stated in their blog post that there will be no social network aspect to their Reader app at all. According to the article, the Readwise team doesn’t think social belongs in a reader app.

The Matter team clearly doesn’t think so. And now, after a few months of use, I tend to agree with them. There’s no back-and-forth commentary on a highlight or posted article. Instead, the social aspect ensures you can get lost in good writing for hours and hours if you want to. Matter makes it so easy to discover great writing and this is in large part due to the social network aspect to the app.

Matter sets the bar very, very high for any new read-it-later apps coming down the pipe. The app has quickly become one of my most-used iPad apps and I’m ecstatic to see Matter push this app category to a whole new level.

You can download the Matter public beta on the App Store right here.

🧠 New: To Obsidian and Beyond

Set up Obsidian the right way. And even make it dance…

Your access to this all-new, self-paced course will save you time, frustration, and missed opportunities. Made for beginners and pros alike.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
1,500 workshop customers, average 4.4 star rating.

Get Your Access »