Twitter on the iPhone

November 23, 2008

I often check Twitter on my iPhone. But instead of using one of the numerous Twitter clients from the app store, I’ll just load up mobile Twitter in Safari. Why don’t I use an app?

There are problems in every option available right now. In this post I’m going to comment on three iPhone Twitter experiences: mobile Twitter (m.twitter.com), and two popular apps, Tweetsville and Twitterrific.

Mobile Twitter (m.twitter.com)

Mobile Twitter, located at m.twitter.com, is the official mobile version of Twitter.com. It works fairly well as a mobile website, but it’s not iPhone optimized. The design doesn’t follow the iPhone human interface guidelines published by Apple. A few changes would improve things for iPhone users:

  1. Tappable areas should be bigger. The “Older” and “Newer” links should be at least 44 x 44 (recommended by Apple).
  2. The text entry box should be bigger. Falls into the above suggestion, but I think it’s so important it deserves its own mention. A bigger entry box would benefit all mobile users (the box should be a certain percentage of the screen). Right now it looks ridiculously small on iPhone, and it’s awkward to type an update into. Editing what you’ve written is a frustrating experience. This experience is so poor that I find I use m.twitter.com to read updates, but to actually send an update to Twitter, I use SMS.
  3. It’d be nice to have a character counter. It’s essential, really: Twitter users need to know how much of their 140-character budget they’ve used and how much they’ve got left.

Third-party Twitter applications for iPhone: Twitterrific and Tweetsville

I’m going to compare Tweetsville and Twitterrific, which isn’t really fair, as I’m comparing the free edition of Twitterrific with a premium app, Tweetsville. But as far as I know, the user experience is the same; except the premium version doesn’t have ads, and it has the option to toggle a light background. Twitterrific is by Iconfactory, and has a free and premium version. Tweetsville is by Ed Voas, who sold the application to Tapulous. It’s a premium app with no free version.

Appearance. I’m not a fan of Twitterrific’s default appearance. The gradient background behind every single update is just something extra the app has to load, along with the text content. I don’t think it looks nice, either. Which, of course, is the real issue here. ; )

Seriously speaking, one of the things I like about Twitter is its simplicity, both in concept and visual design. Any extra graphic embellishment takes away from the simplicity and transparency. It’s worth noting that the desktop version of Twitter doesn’t even allow users to customise a background colour (the default is white). Any Twitter app should aim to load as quickly as possible, so being spare in appearance is a good thing.

Tweetsville’s appearance is simpler. It offers two display options (bubbles or no bubbles). I think it fits better with the appearance of core iPhone apps, in both its visual design and interaction design.

Content concentration. How many updates can you cram into a single screen and is cramming content into the screen a good thing to aim for? Content in context is something designers should definitely take into consideration. Twiterrific appears to be able to fit more updates in a single screen when compared with Tweetsville, which would have the benefit of not having to scroll as much. Given the little work involved in scrolling, and how much you need to scroll anyway, perhaps it doesn’t make much of a difference. It also depends on how many people you’re following, and how much content you need to catch up on.

Tweetsville: (1) plain, (2) speech bubbles.

User experience. Tweetsville looks better than Twitterrific. Additionally, its user experience is better: it is more user-friendly, and more compliant with Apple’s human interface guidelines for iPhone, and this is shown best on the settings screens below.

Tweetsville’s settings vs. Twitterrific’s settings.

Tweetsville’s settings fills a single screen. Twitterrific’s settings fills roughly three screens. The latter offers too many options, and not all are necessary. Is the ‘Light Background’ button totally necessary in the free edition? It mainly serves as an ad for the premium edition. How come Tweetsville gets away with so few settings options?

User control: tab bar. Another good thing about the design of Tweetsville is the presence of the tab bar. The tab bar on the bottom of the screen acts like a useful frame, giving the user more freedom over where they can move within the application.

The tab bar is a great asset. Even better is the ability to edit them (which you can do, surprise surprise, by hitting “edit” on the “more” screen). This works like the tabs in the iPhone’s iPod, which draws on an established affordance (good).

Tweetsville’s custom tab bar

Progress/status bars vs spinners. When I refresh the app I want to know how quickly I’ll be able to read new updates. So I want to see a visual indication of progress.

The spinner (circled in red) doesn’t indicate its progress visually. It just tells me it’s working. Great, but how soon will I get to see my updates?!

The browser bar (also circled in red) fills up as it downloads data. It tells me that not only is something happening, it’s completing a task, and is at least a percentage through completing it.

I really like this and would love to see an app that could show this, even if it’s not accurate. Psychologically, it eases my pain by giving me the impression that something’s getting done!

While none of these experiences are perfect, the good thing about multiple options is that the designers behind them will learn from each other’s merits and mistakes and improve iteratively. Twitterrific was one of the first clients out there for iPhone and iPod touch, and Tweetsville is a fairly recent release, so the latter had more time to learn from existing apps on the market.

I hope that Twitter will make an iPhone optimized site according to Apple’s human interface guidelines, because I’d be happy to use the website. Twitter itself is extremely lightweight, so does it really need an app? Any app should reflect the lightweight nature of Twitter, and aim to keep loading time as low as possible.

One Response to “Twitter on the iPhone”

  1. Have you tried using Twitterfon? How would you grade it compared to the apps you’ve nicely reviewed here?

    Cheers

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