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 clichéd, 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 yellow…and 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 app…and 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.