Twitter: Now A Quality First-Party App

An application programming interface — or API — isn’t something everyday tech users need to think about. At least not until Twitter announced the version 1.1 of its API in late 2012, which included a host of restrictions that essentially killed off development of new third-party Twitter apps. Already released third-party apps, such as Tweetbot, fortunately were given a stay of execution, but developers were required to make changes to their apps based on the new API.

When that news hit, I downloaded and toyed around with the official Twitter app for iOS and I was far from impressed. The overall usability was fair, but nowhere as impressive as the other third-party Twitter apps that I had come to know and love. But, being of a curious mind I kept Twitter on my phone so that I could check out future updates. Recently, the app was updated to version 5.7 and I decided to give it a trial run as my default Twitter app. Has it changed for the better?

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Browsing the Timeline

Instead of covering every facet of Twitter, which would be a bit much for anyone to read, this review will focus on the features that are engaged most often by the average Twitter user — starting with browsing the Timeline. Twitterrific 5, another popular third-party Twitter app, gets a lot of credit for have a very minimal design. However, I find that Twitter does an excellent job of presenting individuals tweets in a manner that’s not only simple, but does an excellent job of keeping everything in symmetry — though Tweetbot’s subtle gradient background allows your eyes to reset when reading individual tweets.

Using an official Twitter app means you'll have to ignore ads, which are easily identifiable.

Using an official Twitter app means you’ll have to ignore ads, which are easily identifiable.

Swiping a tweet reveals options to reply, retweet, favorite and share, and tapping the tweet transitions you to the Details view. From this view you can access the same options previously mentioned, but also view the number of times the tweet has been retweeted or favorited by other users (tap these options to see the users that retweeted/favorited the tweet).

Quickly interact with tweets by either swiping or tapping on it.

Quickly interact with tweets by either swiping or tapping on it.

The Details view is also where you’ll access my favorite feature in Twitter — conversations. Unlike third-party apps that can only display replies to tweets, Conversation shows every tweet associated with the original tweet. Even if the tweet you select isn’t the original tweet, you can scroll to the top to read the entire conversation from beginning to end. This feature is not available in version 1.1 of Twitter’s API, and of the features to keep for themselves, conversations is an excellent one for Twitter to have chosen.

Viewing an entire conversation is a great experience that's unique to Twitter.

Viewing an entire conversation is a great experience that’s unique to Twitter.

Composing Tweets

Tapping the compose icon in the upper-right begins the process of creating a new tweet. The compose view will transition from the bottom and you’re prompted to report “What’s happening” by the app. Commonly used tools are spread around the page in a bit of an odd arrangement. The menu bar above the keyboard provides options to turn on/off your location, capture a new photo or upload a photo. The @ and # symbols are available in the lower-right, replacing an enter/return button, which felt a bit alien in my use.

The position of the @ and # symbols takes some getting used to.

The position of the @ and # symbols takes some getting used to.

While not a brand new feature, having been introduced last December, you can enhance and crop photos, as well as add a filter — the big fad these days. The filters are serviceable, but I’ll end up sticking with using Instragram’s post to Twitter function when I’m jonesing for a photo filter. Once you’re finished adding your text and photos, you’re presented with a preview of your fully crafted tweet. Tap the Tweet button in the upper-right once you’re done.

Filters are an obvious addition, though I've only found a few to be useful.

Filters are an obvious addition, though I’ve only found a few to be useful.

Overall, I like the compose view in Twitter and find that it’s very fluid, save for the position of the @ and # symbols, which takes some adjustment. However, when you do use @ or #, possible matches will auto-populate below your inputted text making it very convenient for finding the right user or hashtag. By comparison, Tweetbot one-ups the tweet composing experience by allowing you to access any drafts you’ve created. You’ll have to visit the Me view to access your drafts in Twitter.

Auto-populated users and hashtags speeds up composing tweets.

Auto-populated users and hashtags speeds up composing tweets.

Connect & Discover

A big part of using Twitter, like all social networks, is engaging with others and discovering new information — the latter of which is a staple of Twitter. It’s one thing for a Twitter app to be good at browsing timelines and composing Tweets, but if the app doesn’t allow users to engage with other users or allow you to look outside your current boundaries it’s not a full featured Twitter client. Twitter knows this, and it shows in this app.

The Connect view is where you’ll find all the updates related to your activity, including mentions, new followers and your tweets that have been favorited and/or retweeted. The Discover view, on the other hand, is where you’ll go to browse activity by other users, trends and following suggestions.

Connect and Discovery are examples of great features unique to Twitter.

Connect and Discovery are examples of great features unique to Twitter.

If you’re a Facebook user, I’m sure you’re familiar with how the News Feed displays statuses, photos and pages that have been liked by your friends — all adding up to a rather spammy and wholly annoying ordeal. Instead of filling up your timeline with similar activities, Activity allows you to view tweets that have been favorited by the people you follow or people they’ve recently begun following. Trends, on the other hand, is where you can find the topics that are currently abuzz on Twitter.

Activity and Trends offer information you might enjoy without forcing it on you.

Activity and Trends offer information you might enjoy without forcing it on you.

Where Twitter Falls Short

While features like conversations and the extensive discovery options make for a great experience, there are a number of features in Tweetbot and Twitterific 5 that put Twitter to shame. If you like using multiple devices, you’ll have to seek out your timeline position when you switch because there’s no syncing available. I hope to see this made available in the future, and if Twitter wanted to make this a killer feature they’d set it so that timeline position syncs across all apps and the Twitter website.

Another feature that I absolutely adore in Tweetbot is muting — referred to as muffling in Twitterrific 5. You can mute users, hashtags, clients (e.g. Instagram, Vine) and keywords for different intervals of time. Twitter does allow you to disable retweets from individual users, which is the muting feature I used most frequently in Tweetbot, ultimately making the transition fairly smooth in terms of keeping those retweet spammers at bay.

The Bottom Line

After using Twitter as my default app for nearly two weeks, I’ve become quite fond of the experience it offers. When you choose a Twitter app you’ll have to make a few concessions, and you ultimately have to decide what’s more important to your everyday Twitter experience. Personally, I’m willing to give up the timeline syncing for the ability to read entire conversations in a convenient fashion — though the awesome in-app sound effects in Tweetbot will be missed a great deal.

With that being said, I strongly encourage every Twitter user to explore third-party alternatives because you might find that one of them offers a Twitter experience that’s more geared towards your tastes. For now, I plan on continuing to use Twitter in favor of Tweetbot for as long as it meets my needs. At least until Tweetbot, or another third-party app, releases the next great feature that I can’t do without.


Summary

Tweet, retweet, favorite, connect and discover — all the core Twitter experiences in a quality app.

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