Upnext is a nice read-later app that also works with videos and podcasts

Upnext is a read-later app. No, it’s a bookmarking app. No, it’s a content-curation-social-network thing. Even Jeroen Seghers, one of the service’s co-founders, struggles to explain it. “Longer term,” he says, “I like to think about what we’re building as a knowledge browser.” But even he admits that doesn’t mean much to anyone right now. Eventually, Upnext settled on “A reader with superpowers,” which is close enough.

Whatever you call it, here’s what Upnext is: it’s a place to save and interact with content from all over the internet. It handles articles and blog posts like Pocket or Instapaper but also serves as a dumping ground for all those YouTube videos you want to watch later, the podcast episodes you’ll eventually listen to, the tweet threads you don’t have time to scroll through yet, all those PDFs cluttering your desktop, and more.

My favorite thing about the app is that rather than just storing all that stuff in a reverse-chronological list, it acts as a sort of Google TV interface for web content, a tool that takes all your links and tries to give you back the right thing at the right time. Upnext’s home screen shows you a few categories, a set of curated Daily Picks from the stuff you’ve saved, and then a few of the things you’ve added most recently. There’s also a Review page that asks you to Tinder-swipe your way through your list to keep it clean — swipe right to keep it, swipe left to archive.

The app has been in beta for more than a year, and I’ve been testing it off and on for most of that time. Now it’s launching publicly on iPhone, iPad, and the web — Android’s coming eventually, Seghers says, but not anytime soon. The app costs $10 a month or $69 a year, which is seriously steep for this kind of app (Pocket and Instapaper both have very good free tiers), but Seghers thinks Upnext can build something worth the price for the internet’s content superconsumers. He didn’t rule out eventually offering a cheaper or free version, either, but said that starting expensive “will give us a clear signal on what the most demanding users want.”

Upnext works on iPhone and iPad, but no Android for now.
Image: Upnext/David Pierce

I’ve mostly used it as a straightforward replacement for Pocket (or Matter, another new read-later app I’ve been enjoying) as a simple reading tool. It does a good job ingesting most text articles, with images and other media as well, and makes it pretty easy to highlight text and take notes. If you take notes on a video or podcast, it automatically timestamps them, so they’re easy to find later. (Upnext doesn’t yet have an easy way to sync all your notes to your favorite note-taking app unless you also pay for Readwise, but I’m told that’s coming soon.) The app doesn’t have as many customization options as some other apps — I’d love a way to make the margins a little wider on the iPad, in particular, with Seghers says is coming — but is still a pretty nice reading experience.

Ultimately, though, Upnext’s plan is to do a lot more with your content than give it a nicer font. When you save something in the app through the Upnext browser extension or the iOS share sheet, Upnext tries to figure out what it is and automatically categorizes it for you. It works, ish? Upnext is very good at understanding the difference between a long read and a short article and always puts YouTube links in the right place. But if you save an article with an embedded video at the top, it’s going to think you wanted the article. If you find a podcast episode on its webpage rather than in a podcast player, it’s going to save it as a Short Read and not a Long Listen.

You can’t manually categorize your content, either, which is annoying. (I have a lot of podcasts still in my Short Reads folder.) Instead, Upnext wants you to make playlists of content. I love this feature, personally: I now keep a running list of podcast episodes, articles, and videos on subjects I’m trying to learn more about and can dive into them whenever I have time. (In this sense, Upnext is almost like a supercharged bookmarking service.) You can also share playlists with others, including your own notes on various content, and Seghers says Upnext has long-term dreams of bringing lots of social features to the app.

Three screenshots of the Upnext app showing various types of content.

Upnext tries to handle threads, podcasts, articles, videos, and much more. It’s a tricky thing to get right.
Image: Upnext

Higher on the priority list: getting better at understanding the content people put into Upnext. The app already saves your progress on all kinds of content, so you can pick anything up where you left off. But Seghers says the team is spending a lot of time on improving the automated categorization system, which would also help Upnext recommend content to users. “You can tell us, like, ‘I want to read, I want to listen, or want to watch,’” he says. “Then, if you can also tell us, ‘This is the topic I actually want to make some progress on,’ or ‘Here’s what I’m just kind of in the mood for,’ because our morning vs. evening and weekend vs. weekend, it’s all very different.” He’s also excited to turn Upnext into a powerful search engine for all the stuff you save but acknowledges that’s hard work, too.

The dream for an app like this, really, is that you just spend your days dumping stuff you’re interested in, and the app smartly spits it back to you at exactly the right moment. It’s not a chore or an inbox, more like your curated version of the internet. Upnext isn’t that, but that’s pretty close to what Seghers says he’s trying to build. “You can just throw any link at it,” he says, “and it’s a continuously learning thing.”

Apps like Upnext — and Pocket, Instapaper, Matter, and the rest — have always been for a specific kind of heavy content consumer. I am very much that kind of consumer and have really enjoyed using Upnext so far. It’s not a perfect system, and it’s probably not yet worth $10 a month for most people, but I’ve spent years looking for a good “I’ll get to this later” app, and Upnext is surprisingly close to getting it right.

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