Blinkist is a paid service that gives you access to their summaries of popular books. Pick a book from their collection, and 15 to 30 minutes later you should know the key ideas behind the book.
After several months of trying to use it, I uninstalled the app before the end of my subscription. Let’s cover what worked and didn’t work for me with this app. I’m going to cover the iOS app and not the website, since I’m mostly using it on the go.
Book summaries, native patterns and clutter
The app itself is fairly simple with four tabs. The main one called “For You” displays a list of books you were reading or listening to, and three rows of various recommendations. The “Explore” tab is both dedicated to search to show you the trends on the app. “My Library” is where you can add books to read later, and the “Space” tabs is difficult to describe but we will get to it later.
Overall the app seems to be a good mix between Blinkist’s branding, which is rather polished, and iOS native patterns. I’m used to the tabs at the bottom, I’m used to the tabs bar at the bottom, I’m used to the “back” arrow on the top left and the gestures to get back to the preview view.
The general information architecture of the app is a little messy though. The main tab feels like it’s trying to get me to add new books to my library. If I skim through one of the key ideas of a book, the app considers I started reading it even if I didn’t add it to my library.
The library itself makes a lot of room for the history rather than for books I actually opted in to save. Once I finished a book, it goes to the “Finished” section and there is no obvious way to remove it from there, at least on mobile. The experience ends up feeling quite cluttered: it keeps distracting me with new books and suggestions before I’m even finished with what I’m reading.
When I’m reading a book, the content is displayed in what iOS calls a Bottom Sheet. This pattern is used for simple content and tasks, and Apple warns against using it for prolonged user flows. To me, Bottom Sheet feel fragile, disposable, and are usually discarded when tapping anywhere other than on the sheet. I don’t find it comfortable at all to read in a bottom sheet.
The app also keeps nagging me to use its Space feature without telling me what the clear benefits are for me. It seems to be a sort of collection of books I can share, but different from the collections I can already create in my library.
After giving it a go, it looks like Blinkist’s Spaces are a way to share books with others. This feels overall very unnatural to me as reading is usually an intimate task. I talk about some books with family and friends after I’m done processing them.
Opinions, in 15 minutes
To be completely transparent, my favourite kind of book by far is fiction, and in particular science-fiction. I long for the countless hours of reading before closing a book for the last time.
Apart from a few good picks, the books seem to be revolving a lot about personal growth. A lot of them are selling snake oil: reading them will change you, for the better. You can finally become that strong superintelligent warrior serial entrepreneur full of charisma you (or others) always wanted (you) to be.
The large number of books telling you how to live the same specific aspect of your life can very quickly lead to choice paralysis. Why should I pick one book over the dozens of other on the very same topic? How do I know if the author can be trusted? Is the audience qualified to rate the books?
The experience comforts me in the idea that personal growth books are often a handful of ideas spread very thin on 300 pages. Most of the time those ideas are neither novel nor particularly interesting to me. They are rarely evidence-based too.
Overall Blinkist seems to be tailored for an audience that is looking forward to changing itself and matching others expectations. I’m always trying to improve, but I’d rather do it based on feedback I receive than because someone thinks that’s how things should be.
Blinkist holds its promise
Admittedly, apart from its disorganised Information Architecture the app is not really to blame. The content can be fairly bland but that’s not an app problem itself. It also tends to recommend books on similar topics, instead of offering books challenging the ones you read.
All in all, the app delivers what it promises: 15 to 30 minutes summaries of books. The price is fair, given the amount of work required to summarise books. Whether those books are worthy of interest or not is entirely up to you. Blinkist has free trials, so my recommendation would be for you to give it a go and see if you can find happiness in their offering!