Feature shotguns vs. feature lasers

December 5, 2008

I find reading Twitter is more enjoyable through an iPhone app than on the desktop because it suits the “fits and starts” usage pattern well. I’ve been using the IconFactory’s Twitterific for this, and it works okay. However, their system of selecting a tweet and manipulating it with the toolbar is way too fidgety. I’m often accidentally hitting the toolbar or accidentally double tapping while scrolling, causing the list to whip down dozens of tweets, and disorienting me. So on a friend’s suggestion, I tried out Tweetie.

Moving to Tweetie was like being hit with a feature shotgun. Multiple accounts, tabs for all sorts of information, access to details normally only found on the Twitter website… Tweetie has more features than I’d have ever thought to ask for. Its UI uses more iPhone conventions than Twitterific. The drill-down UI for tweets and links is much better and solves the problems I was experiencing.

So although I appreciated the double-barrel shot of features, I quickly became frustrated with Tweetie. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me why, until Twitterific’s developer explained:

We go to great lengths to maintain a reading position between launches of the application. Since we’ve found that reading Twitter on a mobile device is done in “fits and starts”, keeping the reader’s location in a consistent state is very important. It’s not an easy feature to get right which could explain why Twitterrific is currently the only app that tries to do this (and our own implementation could even use improvement.)

With laser precision, Twitterific gets in a feature that I both never noticed and absolutely needed. I need to be able to read from oldest to newest, in chunks, and pick up where I left off. As fancy as Tweetie is, it doesn’t let me read tweets the way I want to, which is pretty damning for an app whose purpose is to read tweets. Of course there are other things wrong with Tweetie ((The bloat, the fact hitting the “Back” button usually brings me to an account page instead of my tweet timeline, and the iChat style bubbles are the main ones.)), but those things are nothing compared this one feature that was so laser sharp that I’d never have thought to ask for it.

© Allen Pike. See also Twitter and Steamclock.