Unlike those who use Facebook, iPhone-owning Twitter fans have a massive choice of clients available to them, including a very efficient and easy-to-use official app. Born from Twitter’s purchase of the studio behind Tweetie, the official client has long been considered the yardstick against which all others should be measured.
Despite a slight bump in the road with the introduction and subsequent removal of the intrusive QuickBar, Twitter for iPhone has remained popular; with 90% of mobile users tweeting from it. Twitter obviously want to keep it this way because they’ve recently told developers they no longer want to see ordinary Twitter clients from third-parties, and they’ll need to feature something special if they want to keep their API privileges.
Leaving aside Twitter’s reasons for saying all this, and whether they’d actually revoke APIs at all, we’re going to have a look at two of the very latest Twitter clients to appear on the iPhone. In addition to seeing what they bring to the table, we’re going to examine whether it’s really worth paying for a client, as one is free and the other costs a token amount.
Launched earlier this month to much praise and adoration, Tweetbot comes from Tapbots, a well respected team of iPhone developers responsible for several simple, good-looking and highly functional utility apps. They describe Tweetbot as a ‘Twitter client with personality’, but is that enough to make people stump up the £1.19 the app costs?
Once you’ve signed in with your username and password, the app is ready to go. Even at this stage you’ll start noticing subtle differences between it and other clients. For a start, if you’re using an iPhone 4, the app supports its Retina Display and looks absolutely stunning. Text is one of the many strengths of Apple’s high-resolution screen and Tweetbot is a perfect demonstration of just how sharp it can be.
Your timeline is scrolled through as usual and like many other Twitter apps, you pull it down to refresh. Along the top there is a button for adding a tweet, changing accounts and your avatar. Tapping your avatar reveals one of Tweetbot’s best features, and one which Twitter themselves haven’t really exploited in their app – lists.
Although I’ve created them, I’ve never really bothered to use them; but Tweetbot could change this as it has integrated them in a similar way to the web interface. After tapping your avatar you’re presented with all the lists you’ve created or follow and it’s a simple tap to view them, then another to return to your timeline. It’s quick, easy and actually adds value to a fairly unexciting Twitter feature.
This sets the tone for Tweetbot’s other features too. For example, swiping a tweet to the left reveals the conversation, while swiping to the right shows replies. A tap opens a function bar to reply, retweet, add to favourites and so on; while tapping and holding returns a wealth of options from copying a tweet, emailing it or sending links to Read it Later or Instapaper. It’s all very easy, very smooth and beautifully presented.
In this first version of the app, there are a couple of features missing. There’s no Push notifications, nor is there a landscape keyboard option when writing tweets or viewing your timeline. Both are quite important, but aren’t deal breakers as Tapbots say quite clearly in their iTunes description that both will be in a future update.
Add a series of customisable buttons, cute sound effects, location awareness and super-speedy performance and you’ve got the first Twitter client able to replace Twitter’s own as the one I’d want to use every day. It really is that good.
Many will know TweetDeck from their excellent desktop client which not only tracks Twitter, but Facebook too. They’ve had an iPhone app for a while too, and although perfectly acceptable; it was aimed more at the power user or someone who was already using the desktop version.
Late last week a new TweetDeck client arrived in the App Store, so why had they decided to go this route instead of just updating the old one? A blog post announcing the new version compares it to the difference between Batman and Robin and Batman Begins – a bold comparison to make!
Much of the expected TweetDeck functionality is there such as multiple account support and Facebook integration, all displayed using the familiar ‘columns’ format. You swipe left and right between them, easily viewing mentions and direct messages; plus if you use TweetDeck on your computer you can sign in with your TweetDeck account and sync your settings across that way.
TweetDeck is free to download and like Tweetbot has support for the iPhone 4′s Retina Display, plus an array of features related to tweeting. Where it differs though, is in the way it displays these features, and how the user can customise it. Pinching the screen brings up all your columns in a carousel where you can re-order them to your liking, or mix in other accounts for a complete overview of your Twitter activities.
Tapping a tweet takes you to another page with options to retweet or reply, plus a handy link to the poster’s profile. When viewing the profile, a swipe to the left shows their timeline, then another takes you to their favourites, @ replies and lists. It’s very convenient and provides a wealth of information, right down to an average count of their tweets-per-day! Another great feature is tapping a tweet with a picture embedded, as it appears in the new window without any further interaction.
TweetDeck’s attention to detail is high, and it has a landscape keyboard option, but it’s slightly less user-friendly than Tweetbot and even as an experienced TweetDeck user, I found myself getting lost in accounts, adding columns when I didn’t want to and losing the ‘new tweet’ button – not something you want happening.
Have these two new Twitter apps succeeded in elevating themselves above the official app? They’ve certainly added more functionality – especially for those who look after multiple accounts – and in the case of Tweetbot, made an existing feature more usable. Both are also very polished and make use of the iPhone 4′s great screen, plus they perform well and have proved very stable too.
But are either of them worth using over the official Twitter app? In Tweetbot’s case, the answer is yes, it’s easily good enough to be used on a daily basis. For TweetDeck, the answer is not so simple as it’s a little inconsistent. If you use TweetDeck on the desktop then you’ll get some value out of it, but otherwise the sometimes messy navigation makes it annoying to use quickly. However it’s free to download and the amount of information it crams in, displayed using a very clever interface in places, is very impressive.
If you’re not willing to pay for a Twitter client, TweetDeck is on a par with Twitter’s own client; however if you don’t mind paying a tiny amount for an app then grab Tweetbot right now, as the experience it offers is worth every penny.