Michael Hurley, March 24, 2011
Loren Brichter (@atebits) created Tweetie in November 2008. At that time there wasn’t half as many iOS Twitter clients as there are now, and I would hazard a guess to say that without this app there still wouldn’t be. Tweetie, and later Tweetie 2, not only spurred developers to create bigger and better Twitter clients, it also revolutionized iOS app development. Without Tweetie there would be no Pull to Refresh, a feature that feels so natural in many iOS apps that it feels like something Apple implemented.
In April 2010, Twitter bought Tweetie—and Brichter’s company Atebits—and rolled it into the organization. Loren now develops mobile apps for the company, and in that same month the third iteration of the client was released, renamed Twitter for iPhone, and included some branding and UI changes. Since the re-brand, there have not been many significant changes to the app—that is until version 3.3.
Twitter for iPhone (TFI) (Tweetie previously) has shaped the design for many apps, not just Twitter clients. The design has remained clean and simple to understand, with some nice features like the ‘slide to reveal options’ in the main timeline. But these features have been around since the start.
In version 3.3 there were some positive UI changes, especially those to the new tweet screen. For example, auto-completion of usernames has been added. So if you type ‘@a’ a window appears with all usernames beginning with this character, which is further narrowed down the more you type. This feature also extends to Hashtags too.
Additionally, TFI also has improved the view for adding media to your posts. You can now see a preview of any pictures you’d like to tweet and have the option to amend this before displaying them to the world.
Along with the improvements above and additional features such as the refreshed DM view and auto-shortening of links—albeit to Twitter’s own ‘t.co’ service—this would have been a solid update. However, this wasn’t all that the update included.
The Quickbar, that’s what not Macgasmic, but we’ll come back to that in a second.
A quick glance at the reviews for the the current release of TFI will show you a significant issue. The app is crashing. A lot.
Many users are having issues logging in to their accounts and some cannot even successfully open the app. Currently the app is rated at two-and-a-half stars with many scathing reviews for how often crashes occur.
In theory, Twitter should be able to iron out these bugs in the next point release, thereby eliminating these bad feelings.
However, many users consider the main issue in this release to be the Quickbar, lovingly nick-named the #dickbar. For anyone that doesn’t know, the Quickbar displays current trends in a ticker at the top of your timeline.
Thankfully, Twitter has removed the original behaviour of the bar where it would overlay on top of any tweet when you first selected the homescreen tab, no matter where you were in your timeline. The bar now remains firmly stuck to the top.
My issue is no longer with how the bar looks; I’m not just annoyed simply because it’s there. What annoys me is the content that the bar displays to me. Twitter trends used to be extremely effective when the network was small. They used to indicate what the big tech stories were, as only geeks had signed up at this point and spoke of what interested them most.
However, now that the general populous has flocked to Twitter, we are seeing trends that make no real sense to many users. For example, at the time of writing, I am presented with #towie and #icantdateagirl. I do not see me getting any real useful info from these Hashtags.
Marco Arment wrote a fantastic post about the usefulness of trends in today’s Twitter and the Quickbar, and I agree whole-heartedly with him. If something in the bar sparks your interest and you tap it, you would frequently be met with spam using the popular trends to attract eyeballs and a bunch of people asking, ‘What is X?! Why is X trending’. This doesn’t help matters; you garner no information from this, and still have no real idea what the trend means. Additionally the Quickbar does not just show Hashtags, it also shows general trending words. For instance, today ‘Reading Festival’ is trending on Twitter. In TFI, if you select a Hashtag there is a button in the bottom left of the screen that you’re taken to, which if you press you’re given an explanation for why something may be trending. However, if there is no ‘#’ you are left to trawl through tweets to work this out for yourself, as the search screen only allows for definitions of trends including a ‘#’.
Personally, I feel that the Quickbar could work if the trends system was revamped. As I mentioned, I found trends on Twitter to be a lot more useful when Twitter was in its infancy, and it was mainly tech-focused people using the service. Back then trends matched my personal tastes and interest and were useful to me. I propose that Twitter find a way to only show me these types of trends. I follow people that I’m interested in, and I trust these people’s opinions, so trends based on these people’s tweets would be of use to me. I would like to see trends built so each individual would see topics that the people they follow are talking about. It would create a robust, focused trend list which relies on two layers of influence.
I appreciate that Twitter is a free service, and it would appear that the inclusion of the Quickbar is so they can provide an avenue for more people to see the Promoted Trend advertisement that they sell. Twitter is a business, and they need to make money, but I feel that they could do a lot better offering something like paid accounts. Potentially giving paid users some additional features (I call for a downloadable archive of all your tweets, for example) and the removal of Promoted Trends and Promoted Tweets from their timeline. I would urge people to check out Benjamin Brooks’ article as he has done some interesting math into what paid accounts could do for Twitter economically.
Twitter for iPhone (TFI) is still, arguably, the best iOS Twitter client. I have quite recently returned to it as the many apps I was using didn’t offer the features I required. No Twitter app has the same amount of polish as TFI, but I’m still hopeful that there could be an app on the horizon that suits all my requirements—hey Tapbots, I’m looking at you.
Clearly the Quickbar is a controversial move by Twitter, but it’s part of their plan. I just hope they’re able to find a way to modify it further to make it more useful to me or less intrusive.Follow @macgasm