Path Finally Comes to the iPad, But is it Any Good?

The iPad currently has three major social networking apps available on it: Facebook, Twitter and Google+, the last of which is rarely used. Most people use Facebook so they use that app, but there are some who still enjoy Twitter’s much declined (it now looks like a large version of the iPhone edition) official app. Then there are the rare few who prefer Google’s solution to online social networking.

But one service has not been mentioned because it was originally exclusive to the iPhone. This micro social network, as some would call it, is Path. It’s been around since March 2011 and, while it received a lot of praise at first, was recently criticized for an issue found in many iOS apps (accessing contacts without the user’s approval). An independent developer released a Mac app named Journey that allowed users to browse their Path news feeds, but other than that, an iPad app has been needed for some time. It finally released on November 1, but can it match the greatness of the iPhone app?

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Browsing the Stream and Participating

With every social networking app comes a way to browse the news feed and post status updates, photos and other consequential things of your own. If you’ve ever used the iPhone app, this will come naturally because nothing has changed. Unfortunately, posting something requires using the keyboard, which is only available in the portrait orientation and most people aren’t able to type very fast with that. But I’ll get on to the orientation later.

Posting a comment on someone's activity.

Posting a comment on someone’s activity.

If you’ve never used the iPhone app, then I’ll explain the main functions here. There’s no pull-to-refresh, but there is a refresh button beside your profile picture at the top of the page. Once you’ve begun scrolling down, you may like something you see; perhaps it was an inspiring thought or fun picture. Instead of liking it as you would on Facebook, you can make a face, so to speak. If you liked it, smile; if you understand what the person is saying, wink; if you’re appalled, tap the open-mouth emoticon; if you are disgruntled, tap the sad face; and lastly, if you think the post is really that good, tap the heart to favorite it.

You can also comment on a listing by tapping the comment field, which will take you to a dedicated “Leave a comment” page. This is also a ridiculous waste of screen space as even if there are a lot of comments, they are always too small to take up more than 100 pixels — on an iPad with Retina display, that’s a lot.

Sharing Stuff

Posting an inspired thought.

Posting an inspired thought.

Now, of course, there are those times when you feel like expressing your own thoughts. For that, tap the large + button on the Home screen. With a nifty animation, five options will appear: Sleep, Thought, Music, Places and Photo. The first allows you to tell your friends that you’ve gone to sleep or awoken. The second naturally allows you to say what’s on your mind and tag people you’re with or add a location. You can then share the thought to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare or Tumblr and choose a privacy setting for it.

Music

Sharing some music.

Sharing some music.

Music is the coolest feature of Path. It allows you to share what you’re listening to, watching or reading. (I know, that sounds very incoherent being that the icon is a music note. Bear with me.) If you’re listening to something with the iPad’s Music app, it’ll show up in the Currently Playing section and you can share it with your friends. Likewise, Movies allows you to type what you’re watching and Books allows you to share what you’re reading. Both of these list popular titles in case you aren’t sure.

Places and Photos

Taking a photograph of random text on a random MacBook.

Taking a photograph of random text on a random MacBook.

Places is just like Facebook’s Check-In feature and allows you to share where you are with or without adding a caption. Photos is exactly what you’d expect: photo sharing. However, it has a few Instagram-like features to it for adding fancy effects to your photos. Ten of them are available for free with four others costing $0.99 each. There are also post-processing features including lens blur, cropping and brightness.

Having Notifications Open All the Time Wastes Space, Lags

Facebook and every other social networking app on the iPad have notification features that show what’s been going on in your digital social life. These traditionally pop up over the main interface and sometimes appear in a separate menu entirely. Path takes a different approach of showing all your notifications and friend suggestions on the main screen, wasting a third of the space.

Wink if you understand this message.

Wink if you understand this message.

Where there could be photographs, music, maps and other useful and expanded information, the designers have decided to put a notification screen that wastes half the potential of browsing through the news feed. In addition, scrolling through the list of posts produces a significant lag, which is not something I expected to see in this app. It’s not buggy and has no glitches, but it is rather sluggish and that takes away from the overall user experience.

Landscape is Very Limited

In any social networking app, I’d expect landscape mode to have a different method of browsing, but Path has nothing of the sort. Instead, you’re only give covers of music, books, movies, locations and photos combined with places. Everything lags a lot and the whole orientation has a lack of polish. It would have been better for the developers to build a nice feature rather than a halfway-there one.

Some album artwork in Path's landscape browser.

Some album artwork in Path’s landscape browser.

Comparing landscape to portrait reveals a startling fact: you can’t really do anything in landscape mode. Sure, you can browse and play music and zoom in on maps, but what about posting your own stuff? The developers left this out, seemingly with hopes of making the iPad port easier. Using it on a Retina iPad, however, shows that the app would have been better of exclusive to the iPad mini. Overall, it feels like an oversized iPhone app with the same functionality. You’d be better off carrying it in your pocket than your computer bag.

It’s a Big iPhone App

The latest update to Twitter’s iPad app was slated because it looked like the iPhone app, just upscaled. It’s hard to say that Path is much more than that, which is sad. When the iPhone app was released, it brought a really fun and different experience with fancy animations and the slide-out bar to the left. The designers made something unique and enjoyable to use, yet they stopped short with the iPad app.

After Path’s initial success, everyone would expect the same experience on an iPad — not a carbon copy, though. This app offers all the great features of the social network, but it falls short in the experience. User friendliness is one thing; failure to design a tablet-optimized app is another. Path’s iPad app fails to fulfill the service’s quality promise and even if it does improve in the future, the first release will always be remembered as a low point for the service.

Path’s iPad app isn’t its only problem at this juncture. Their users are far more important, and they don’t have very many of them. Only one of my friends has been on in the past few months and it was only because of the iPad app release. If it weren’t for something new and different once in a while, this network would be dead. However, even the iPad app isn’t going to be enough to save it. Path needs a new game plan before it goes under.


Summary

The little iPhone social network has arrived on the iPad. You'll be glad to know it's just as easy to use as the iPhone app. Sadly, that's because it's merely a larger version of that.

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  • JD

    I think the importance of Path as social network is overrated and its usefulness for cross platform posting is underrated. Path is great for simultaneously posting to Twitter and Facebook: it’s fast, photos are posted on FB with reasonable resolution (not links or pixelated low res thumbnails) and on Twitter longer posts get posted as links, which is a handy subsitute for TwitLonger on Twitter clients that don’t support it (e.g. Tweetbot). My only niggle is that it often doesn’t find the music I listen to; it only seems to recognise very mainstream stuff.

    Totally agree with the UI wasting space though and not being able to do much on iPad, but at least I don’t have to blow up the iPhone app to 2x anymore.

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