When it first came out, many thought of the iPad as an excellent way to consume content. The amount of good apps that serve fresh feeds every morning, make the Apple tablet one of my favorite ways to browse the web, check Facebook and use Twitter. Several apps have attempted to refine their design, combine your online streams to offer a unique user experience. When it comes to Twitter, the official app covers most of the bases, but there is still room for others to create something different. Here's where today's app comes into the game.
TweetMag [iTunes Link] by Teehan+Lax is a social magazine that uses the content shared on your Twitter timeline to present you with the most relevant stories of the day. Thanks to a magazine-like visual metaphor, the app displays those interesting articles often buried in your Twitter stream so you don't miss a thing.
This description could be used to talk about the awesome Flipboard, but its now where the similarities end. Unlike the free app, TweetMag is keen to put the user on the driving seat, allowing you to customise your "magazines", search Twitter trends, check out lists and see what others users are posting.
If these two were real physical publications, Flipboard would be the local free paper with stories that relate to you, while TweetMag would be the equivalent of having the whole kiosk full of international editions and glossies you didn't even know about.
This different approach makes a huge difference between both apps. Since many iPad users have played with Flipboard before installing TweetMag, they might expect similar behaviour and features: big mistake. They're different products for different needs, they just happen to look very similar.
Back to the TweetMag review, the developers have taken the time to create a way for you to manage the vast information shared on Twitter. Using the same magazine concept you saw in your timeline when you first launched the app, you can curate new magazines with content from individual users, searches, hashtags or even collections.
Let's say you want to keep up to date with indie iOS developers. You can look up #idevblogaday, drag the avatar/magazine cover to the top of the screen and create your own little fanzine to read later. As simple as that. You can save as many magazines with filtered content on the so-called rack as you want. After some minutes of playing with this feature, you will have a new collection of the magazines that interest you to read relaxing with a coffee.
If you need some inspiration, TweetMag has prepared groups of magazines organised in categories. Tapping on the Fashion stack will open a list of interesting users to follow and a number of Twitter lists about the subject. If you only want to have a quick glance at the latest news around the world, the predefined "Hot Stories" button will display a selection of the trending articles of the day.
One of the decisions that bugs me most is that tweets have been stripped from that human factor, displaying simply the content linked in the tweets. I can share a link of something ridiculous I have found online and written a short explanation for my followers. TweetMag will understand this link is worth reading and will use it my own magazine. It's only when you open that article that you see the actual tweet that led this to appear on your magazine and all the related reactions. The chatter is there, but some taps away from what I expected it to be.
Having said this, the presentation of the articles is beautifully done and lives up to the hype. You are presented with the headline and text of the original background on a white background without any other distraction. You can choose to view the original website in the settings, but I preferred the simplified version. You have the usual buttons available to reply, retweet, favorite and share the article. I'm missing options such as including the article headline on the retweet or common plugins such as Instapaper. Tweetmag plays well with Readability, but there is no way (that I know) to save individual articles to read later.
Tweetmag helps users to make sense of what's going on in the huge universe of Twitter. Content presentation is brilliant and the option of curating your own magazine should be the best way to introduce new users to Twitter. Will performance ruin its promise?
As a final consideration, since TweetMag debut last December, it has been a victim of its own success. Reaching the top spot in the News category in App Stores around the world, helped it to win visibility but also collect some harsh reviews. This looks to me like a classic example of unpolished app that crashes and annoys users. From my experience, I've noticed several freezes on v1.1, the app gets unresponsive when updating content and feels very slow at times. Noticing that two out of eight articles were the same was a big let down too.
It's quite disappointing that loading four single stories on a custom magazines takes so long too. I loved the concept, reading articles on a fresh virtual piece of paper and selecting my own stories. The functionality is there. However, I cannot recommend it until it fixes those performance issues that ruin an otherwise very good-looking twitter experience. If you are still interested about the app, I suggest you keep an eye and buy it when it drops price and wait for a bug fix.