Impressive first release: TweetDeck for the iPhone

17 Jun
17/06/2009

TweetDeckSmallYesterday was Twitter day – sort of. By the way: Why don’t you follow me @24z?

The service once more went down for a scheduled maintenance but as a compensation we got a couple of major updated Twitter clients: Sessmic DESKTOP, TweetDeck and TweetDeck for the iPhone.

I’ll cover the new iPhone release here and leave the desktop clients for somebody else. Whenever I refer to “TweetDeck” in this article, I mean the iPhone version. I explicitly point out if I refer to the desktop app.

In short: TweetDeck is a very impressive first release, however, I will continue to stay with Tweetie.

Desktop TweetDeck, brought to us by Sachin Agarwal and Garry Tan, the guys behind the Y Combinator-funded company Posterous, according to TwitStat accounts for 10.58% of all Twitter traffic, thus being the largest contributor behind the Twitter website itself.

Interestingly enough TwitStat also reveals that rank three and four are hold by two Twitter clients for the iPhone (Twitterrific and Tweetie). While Tweetie started out as a sole iPhone solution and introduced a Mac only desktop variant earlier this year, this release of TweetDeck for the iPhone is very likely Posterous attempt to secure its position as the leading Twitter client for both worlds.

iPhone Twitter clients have to survive in a highly competitive environment.

Admittedly if you come out with a product as late as Posterous did, you’ve got a fair chance of learning from the others, copying their best practices and incorporating a bit of what made your desktop application successful. You simply don’t have to innovate as much as the first movers. (Building a Palm Pre is just that much easier than coming up with an iPhone.)

And this is exactly what TweetDeck resembles.

What I like

  • The UI feels complimentary to the desktop app. Especially the way the column view, which TweetDeck for the desktop got famous for, has been ported to the iPhone is really beautiful. It’s a great combination of standard iPhone tables and the integration of swipe gestures.
  • I haven’t seen desktop like notifications (Growl) incorporated into any iPhone app before. Nice job!
  • The overall performance is okay. It’s not as fast as Tweetie but it’s fast enough for my everyday use.
  • I love the updates notifications and the ability to mark all as read. The very clear and straight forward indication of new items is essential if you’re heavily leveraging Twitter to communicate with your peers.
  • The seamless blending of multiple accounts into the multi-column view is intriguing and makes handling more than a single Twitter account that much easier.
  • The ability to sync my TweetDeck desktop settings across multiple computers and the iPhone is a nice add-on.

What I don’t like

  • Though overall the UI is extremely polished and pleases the eyes, there are no visual clues for links and images in the column views. Links are clearly indicated in the Tweet Detail view, which is only a single tap away, but still I’d prefer to have links in different colors in the Tweet Tables, too.
  • Multimedia attachments are nearly impossible to spot in the list view. Same problem as with URLs.
  • No indication of favorite tweets in list views.
  • The profile details don’t offer a full size view for profile images. Tweetie’s support for photos is superior.
  • No indication whether a user follows you. TweetDeck does indicate whether you follow a given user, but not vice versa. In most cases, however, it’s the other information that you need, specifically if you plan to DM that user. (Admittedly, Tweetie does not indicate this, either.)
  • The handling of API limits is less than ideal. While you get a “Growl” notification once you hit the API limit, in many of the subsequent views low level Objective-C errors (@null, etc.) are exposed to the user. This needs some serious rework.
  • No direct user search. (The Quick Follow follows a user straight ahead.)

Showstoppers

This is my very personal list. It might not apply to everybody, but hey, isn’t all of this a matter of opinion anyway?

  • No landscape keyboard! This is my absolute no go for TweetDeck. Landscape keyboard is so important for text entry, that Apple names it one of the key features of the new iPhone OS 3.0 (which will be released to the public today). Tweetie offers a setting which automatically turns the keyboard into landscape mode. It’s a killer feature and one that should not be that difficult to implement. You never again want to type your tweets in portrait mode, once you get used to the landscape keyboard.
  • The “Recent Tweets” listing which you access from a profile detail view, does not offer you options to follow links, repost tweets, mark tweets as favorites, etc. It’s essentially a read-only view. You can’t navigate anywhere from here, except back to the profile view.
  • No handling of sudden application shutdowns. In case you have to quickly quit TweetDeck in the middle of typing a message, your work is lost. This happens more often than not: Crashed, Incoming calls, Pressing the Home button, etc. In contrast Tweetie handles all unsolicited termination situations really well. It supports drafts and in case Tweetie terminated while you were typing, the next time you start the app, your message is right there, ready to be finished.

Finally, I don’t know whether TweetDeck will support the upcoming Push Notification services. I’m running on the GM release of iPhone OS 3.0 with full support for Push Notifications but could not find any related settings in TweetDeck.

I understand that Push Notifications are a brand new enhancement of the iPhone platform, but if you release a communication/messaging application one day before the public iPhone OS 3.0 launch, I’d expected it to include this essential feature.

Will TweetDeck gain significant iPhone screen real estate share?

It’s hard to say. There might, however, be one significant reason for it to become very successful and I did not cover that aspect before: TweetDeck is free. The other iPhone Twitter clients mentioned here are paid apps.

I’m pretty sure that neither the makers of Tweetie nor the producers of Twitterrific are backed by VC gold. Rest assured, I like to save money and thus using free apps as much as anybody else.

Grabbing market-share primarily by offering your app entirely free feels a bit unfair to me. We do need excellent developers like the folks at Iconfactory and atebits. TweetDeck might literally be successful at their expense.

Even if it’s ultimately not the better solution.

Finally a couple of screenshots:

td1td2


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