Twitter is a very popular social network and up until lately, users have been able to access it using a variety of third-party clients. A month or so back, however, Twitter decided it was time to restrict the access that third-party apps have, meaning that new users and even some old ones will be dropped from certain apps. This was a disappointing move by Twitter. It could make everything better with a good update to its official apps, and that’s just what it did on September 18th. Starting with the iPad and iPhone apps, Twitter has brought an overhaul in design and functionality. The tablet app is back on top again, it seems. But is it really worth your time or should you stay loyal to your favorite third-party app?
Tweeting, Discovering and Expanding
A lot of people use Twitter to participate in a discussion about a trending topic or to find out what an interesting person is talking about. Twitter thought it’d be better for users to discover more, so it introduced an appropriately named feature back in May to serve that very purpose. Shortly after arriving on the Web app, Discover was available in iPhone and Android apps. The iPad was left out, along with support for Android tablets. Twitter was apparently working on a better experience for Apple tablet users, and it took them another four months to get everything in order.
With version 5.0 of Twitter for iOS, the social network brought every major feature, including new ones it introduced on the 18th, to the iPad. Finally, the disconnection between smartphone and tablet has disappeared. This isn’t exactly for the better however, because Twitter has completely changed the way you use its iPad app. Yes, you can still Tweet and reply to direct messages, but the focus has been changed. Twitter is now focusing on inline content with Expanded Tweets, giving you a preview of links before you tap them. Some would say that this change of focus has crippled the client, but I think differently. It’s clear that Twitter isn’t focusing on giving users the kind of experience they want to have, and that’s unfortunate. It is trying to change what people use Twitter for. It’s trying to appeal to the mainstream consumer now.
Offering potentially stellar mobile apps for popular devices helps Twitter become the place of breaking news because of the community. Twitter wants users with every possible background. That’s why its redesigns have attempted to be more user-friendly and easier to understand. Unity is expressed with the new iPad app — the design is very similar to the iPhone version. Most people used to tell me that they didn’t use Twitter because it was confusing. I think the developers finally caught on, but I’m not sure if they solved the problem.
This new iPad app is another step in Twitter’s new direction. For some, it’s a bad thing. To me, it seems like a move in the direction of the network is okay, but the app has been hurt by it. I like the emphasis on discovering new stories that the people I’m following talk about. The nice thing is that the stories in the Discover tab aren’t usually uninteresting and pointless rants; they’re some of the better pieces, and Twitter knows this because people post and retweet them. The not so nice thing is how Twitter implements this throughout the iPad client.
Still No Streaming
My major problem with Twitter’s new iPad app is that it still doesn’t support streaming, which means things aren’t always up-to-date. Tweetbot, when on a Wi-Fi network, will constantly check for new Tweets by default. Version 5.0 of the official app still has pull-to-refresh. I understand that this is a signature feature that Loren Brichter introduced with Tweetie, but it’s hindering an updated news feed. Every second the news feed isn’t current, people switch to Tweetbot for one that is. It’s as simple as that.
Links Aren’t There Until You Expand
Twitter has somehow managed to take the one useful thing out of Tweets: links. Now, to tap a link, you must first tap the Tweet to expand it. Twitter wants to give you a preview of what you’re about to view, but the problem is that half the links don’t work. Bit.ly and other shorteners aren’t enabled for expanded Tweets because Twitter doesn’t have that kind of access. My own WordPress blog also has problems and doesn’t show previews in Tweets. So what exactly is the point of having such a limited feature? I’m not sure, and I don’t think Twitter is either. They took out functionality that users happen to enjoy the most. Problems do come with change and fixes come with more change. I’m just hoping Twitter sees the problem they’ve created by leaving links out of regular Tweets. It may be more simple, but it’s not at all user friendly, even if it does fit with the new direction of the company.
Where Have Direct Messages Gone?
With Twitter’s move to a four-item menu bar on the left, users are going to have some trouble finding direct messages. This is another thing that’s changed with Twitter’s modified focus. The network wants things to be public, so if you’re looking to send someone a direct message that’s private, things get tricky. You’d expect there to be a little message icon on in the left sidebar, but no, you have to go to Me and tap the message icon to bring them up.
Direct messaging used to be one of the key features on Twitter, so what happened? My theory is that more users came to the network and the usage of messaging went down, so Twitter has started to phase it out. Even in the Web app, direct messages are hidden in the settings menu. Now honestly, why would you put this feature in a configuration area when it’s something people might use? Because Twitter feels that people don’t use it anymore — times have changed.
Designed Like the iPhone App
I don’t mind Twitter’s new direction that it’s taken with its mobile apps, but the intuitive design the original iPad app held has dwindled with this release. Timelines no longer have the linen background with the fun pinch gestures that could be used to expand a Tweet. It’s as if they took the iPhone app, made it larger, and changed the menu bar location in order to construct it. Even the swipe-over action for Tweets is in version 5.0, although it is pretty hard to get it to work.
Twitter has redesigned its iPad app, but not in the sort of way it should have. It’s stretched out the iPhone app to make a tablet version. I remember using Twitter for Android on a Nexus 7 and thinking to myself, “How can users tolerate this terrible experience?” That was just the standard Android app on a 7-inch display, so imagine my surprise when I saw the new iPad app. The only difference is that Twitter put the menu bar on the side instead of the bottom, because they have to fit with tablet guidelines somehow.
To add to that, browsing Tweets is nothing like it used to be. This app used to have special multi-pane functionality that would allow the user to swipe away timelines and profiles. Now, everything is focused on a single task. In landscape, it wastes half the screen. There could be more content there, but the developer thought it better to include a simple timeline instead. Likewise, if you go to someone’s profile, it’ll show three of their latest Tweets, five of their images, their followers and people they’re following, and people similar to them that you should follow. It’s hyper-focused, and a bit annoying at that.
Promoted Items are Everywhere
There were once Twitter clients with ads, but that was only because they were free; you could usually purchase an ad-free version. I never thought I’d see them in the official apps, though. Twitter changed that when it brought promoted Tweets to the iPhone app, then to Android. I feared that they’d do the same thing with third-party apps, but they limited their access to the API instead.
With the new iPad app you’ll see promoted trends, suggestions of who to follow and even promoted people that are similar to the profile that you’re browsing. It’s sad, but at least these aren’t full advertisements pushed in your face. I’m grateful for that, and if Twitter is to advertise, at least they do it more civilly than Facebook. On occasion you’ll also see a promoted Tweet in your timeline, preferably from someone Twitter knows you’re interested in. This is Twitter’s move to monetize, and it works well — I don’t mind it at all. Hopefully other users aren’t too annoyed.
The last thing in design is headers. Twitter added these to its Web site on September 18th and they function exactly like Google+ and Facebook’s. If you’ve ever used either of these social networks, you’ll know what I’m talking about; you can set a little picture at the top of your profile to make it more personal. Twitter’s implementation is only slightly different than on other networks, and this new feature doesn’t replace the background. Still, you won’t see the background in the iPad app. The header will show up along with profile information and your Web site. You can even set it from your iPad by tapping the gear button, tapping Edit Profile and navigating to Header.
Has It Improved?
Version 5.0 of its iOS app was a big update for Twitter. The developers changed almost everything about the iPad edition of the client. It’s now a large version of the iPhone version with a slightly different layout in the landscape orientation. That’s disappointing. On top of that, the whole tablet experience has changed. It doesn’t feel like a tablet app right now, just an iPhone app that was quickly ported to the iPad and is still in development. I experienced some lag when navigating as well, which certainly should not be the case with such a minimal app.
Twitter’s app has lost its intuition and authenticity. People used it because of its unique behavior and fun gestures: you couldn’t find these things in another app. Now, Twitter’s done away with the very things that made its iPad app what it was. The developers have sacrificed nifty features and fast navigation for a different experience that’s not nearly as good as the old one. It’s too bad because this was Twitter’s chance to change its iPad app for the better. It wasted an opportunity for the sake of universal change.
I can’t recommend this app over Tweetbot, but it is the second best Twitter app out there right now only because of its diminishing competition.
Everything has changed in Twitter's update to its iPad app, and not necessarily for the better. There are now promoted Tweets bundled with a completely new experience and change of focus all inside a rehashed iPhone design.5
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