App.net is rapidly evolving from an ambitious concept into a flourishing reality. User registrations have exceeded the 25,000 mark, and the addition of Netbot, by Tapbots, to the App.net lineup lead to a boom in new user registrations.
AppNet Rhino was the first App.net iOS client to make it into the hands of users, but its lack of features resulted in a less-than-stellar experience. It’s hard to scoff at a free application, but App.net users are a technologically savvy bunch, and other free apps were trumping Rhino in both style and functionality. The AppNet Rhino team acknowledged this feature gap with an impressive update, which also made Rhino one of two App.net iPad clients currently available. Let’s take a look at this new iPad version, and examine just how well it holds up against the Tapbots juggernaut.
Tweetbot has been my go-to Twitter application since its initial release, and the App.net version of this classic client is just as excellent. Although Netbot provides one of the best App.net experiences, exposure to the App.net Alpha site has brought about a new appreciation for simple feeds. Visit the Global feed, for example, and notice its simplicity. Posts are the primary focus, and there aren’t any distracting sidebars, textures or options. Exposure to Alpha’s simple style has led me to seek this same kind of simplicity in an App.net client, and AppNet Rhino hits the sweet spot.
Posts take center stage in AppNet Rhino for iPad. The timeline consumes the entire width of the screen, with minimal header and footer toolbars. Like most App.net apps, the bottom toolbar provides fast access to the user and global timelines, mentions and the user profile. Rhino shades every other post to show clear distinction between posts. Posts with replies are indicated by a small reply icon in the bottom-right corner. The app does display YouTube thumbnails, but is completely devoid of image thumbnails otherwise.
AppNet Rhino’s profile view is gorgeous. Unfortunately, the app seems to distort cover photos that vary from the recommended upload size. Regardless of this small annoyance, the profile view provides quick access to important user data, as well as the ability to follow or mute users.
AppNet Rhino’s race to be first meant that it originally lacked most of the basic App.net features, but the developers haven’t been resting on their laurels. Rhino posts contain tappable links, usernames and hashtags. Users can tap an avatar to be taken directly to the user profile. There are also several gestures, including a left swipe to access a conversation and a right swipe to access reply, repost and delete options. Tapping and left swiping a post either replies to the post or opens a conversation, if available. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t support the native repost feature and relies somewhat on the repost etiquette developed by App.net users. Rhino also lacks support for starring posts.
App.net relies solely on user created content, so content composition within a client is just as important, if not more than content consumption. AppNet Rhino’s composition screen still leaves much to be desired. The composition window does offer character countdown and access to the mention symbol, including predictive mentions. Heavy hashtag users will be disappointed, because there’s no hashtag option available on the incredibly sparse toolbar, and the developers don’t take advantage of the new iOS Twitter keyboard. Posters must dig through the iPad keyboard options in order to find a hashtag, and the app doesn’t remember commonly used tags.
AppNet Rhino can save post drafts, but the drafts are buried in the user profile settings. Currently, the app also lacks the ability to upload and share photos. In the future, Rhino developers should consider using the composition toolbar to house a hashtag symbol, drafts and eventually a photo upload option. This is where the only other App.net iPad app, Netbot, is clearly a winner.
AppNet Rhino’s settings are hard to find, hidden in the user’s profile page. The compose button transforms into a settings cog when a user visits their profile. The settings menu contains drafts, a list of muted users and options to enable a larger font or logout. It’s odd that drafts are included in the settings options, because users must navigate through several menus and interface changes to access them. A single drafts icon in the compose screen would do wonders for usability.
Tweetbot’s iCloud sync is a lifesaver for tweeters with overactive feeds, but Netbot is the only App.net client that currently syncs timelines. As the user base increases, timeline sync will be a must-have feature, and it would be great to see iCloud syncing in a future version of AppNet Rhino.
The same goes for push notifications, a feature that Rhino also lacks. The newest version of the app offers reposts, however, these aren’t the newly implemented native reposts that App.net now supports. The app is also completely devoid of stars and support for read later services. In the end, the app is still missing many of the basic content creation features.
AppNet Rhino is a fantastic app for consuming posts. Despite the missing features, the app’s Twitterrific-style timeline is excellent and puts emphasis on post content, rather than a design-heavy user interface.
Normally, the future development of free apps is highly unstable, but App.net’s newly announce incentive program means that even developers of free apps can make a few bucks on their clever creations. Hopefully, the Rhino developers will close the feature gap within the upcoming months. For now, Rhino offers an excellent, uncluttered consumption experience, but it still has a ways to go before it can be considered a capable primary App.net client.
A basic, universal App.net client that offers an elegant timeline and simple interface.7
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