Inert Detritus The Internet's dust bunnies

13 November 2008 @ 11am

iPhone Apps: TwitterFon

At Tuesday’s NSCoder SF (an icon for which I have a good, but clichd, idea for), I met @thekarladam, who showed me a few new Twitter iPhone applications. I’ll focus on TwitterFon, since I downloaded it last night and played with it a bit.

Bear in mind, I’ve been a Twitterrific user since The Early Days of Twitter, back in early 2007. It was a no-brainer to download and pay for Twitterrific for the iPhone. I have a few niggling complaints, but overall, it’s been good to me.

TwitterFon does a few things well. First, scrolling performance is, in the words of the Macintoshian Achaia forum on Ars Technica, “teh snappay”. It’s a joy to scroll through the list, which is good, because you’ll be scrolling through it a lot. TwitterFon has, as both Karl and Anne mentioned on Tuesday, no sense of your “place” in your timeline. Twitterrific lets you tap on a tweet to select it, an idea brought over from the desktop application, and when you load new tweets, it remembers where you last were. TwitterFon attempts to remedy this with a very, very light blue background behind new tweets, but I’ve yet to convince it that I’ve read those, and it can stop marking them for me. It also doesn’t autoscroll to this location, which is a pain when more than a couple of screenfuls of new tweets have loaded.

TwitterFon sidesteps the text formatting support currently in the API by parsing out @usernames and links in tweets. When you tap a tweet containing either of those, it lets you jump down a chain of replies, or browse to the link in a built-in Safari-style view.

So, well done, TwitterFon: you accomplish great scrolling performance that I get to enjoy far more than I would like, and you adopt a novel approach to some poor iPhone APIs. Now, the bad part.

I tried favoriting a tweet for reading the link later on my desktop, and I’m still not sure if I favorited it or not. I tapped it, nothing happened, so I tapped again. Still nothing, so I tapped a third and fourth time. On the fourth tap, it turned yellowand then back to clear. Not sure if it was waiting for an asynchronous API call to return, but in either case, poorly done.

I tweeted last night about the lack of API paging in TwitterFon: with the number of people I follow, it lets me load a few times during the day and still catch everything that’s been said since the last refresh. When I refreshed last night just after putting in my Twitter credentials, it only loaded 20 tweets. I tried closing and relaunching the appand nothing changed. Ok, I thought, it doesn’t do paging.

On my walk to the shuttle stop this morning, I opened it back up, having just caught up with my timeline before leaving, so only loading the 20 latest wouldn’t cost me any missed tweets. The app proceeded to load more than a hundred: paging, plus some @replies to me, I assume. Apparently, TwitterFon supports API paging, but didn’t feel like showing that off when I first used the app last night.

The embedded Safari view, which I saw for the first time in Twitterrific, is a great feature for Twitter, and a real necessity for a Twitter iPhone client in my mind. TwitterFon gives you forward and back buttons, and a URL-looking bar that shows you the current URL. There’s no option to stop or reload the page, something often necessary when my phone quickly flips between cell and WiFi on campus: annoying, but not life-threatening. I tapped on the URL displayed at the bottom, in an attempt to perhaps reload the URL or edit it in some way; TwitterFon exited, and loaded the URL in Safari. This is great to have, especially if it’s a longer article or something I want to bookmark, but this was not what I expected from the UI. Twitterrific and NetNewsWire both do something more expected: they either use a Safari-style icon, or a button labeled “Open in Safari” to tell you what’s going to go down when you tap.

I think I would switch to TwitterFon full-time if it fixed the “remember where I was in the timeline prior to a refresh” issue. The other things I mentioned are annoying, and will cost them users (many people will assume it just doesn’t support opening links in Safari, for example), but I can live with them.

Addendum: just found TwitterFon’s webpage. To all application developers: I shouldn’t have to read your webpage to learn all the things your app does. UI Design: You’re Doing It Wrong.


Posted by
Tom Markiewicz
14 November 2008 @ 9am

Great post. So have you tried any of the new batch of apps? Are you sticking with Twitterific?

Posted by
Christopher Bowns
14 November 2008 @ 10am

I haven’t tried Tweetsville: while the app sounds well-executed, and bug-fix and feature cycle by the original author likely would have ended well, the new ownership by Tapulous makes me think that it won’t turn out as well as I’d hope. I don’t use Twitter on my phone all that much, so I try not to jump between clients: it makes it more confusing than it has to be.

If TwitterFon removes the scroll-to-top-when-new-tweets-arrive (which makes you lose your current spot in the timeline) and makes a better way to “mark” where you were prior to refresh, I’ll have no problem making it my new primary client.