Twitter clients and iOS devices are a marriage made in heaven. The same way you watch movies on your 42-inch TV or play Arkham City on your 360, iPhones and iPads just feel right when it comes to the microblogging service. I believe it has to do with the level of customisation and app variety available on the App Store. But since Twitter took over the scene making Tweetie the official (and free) client, only a handful of developers dare to code alternatives. Until now.
Twittelator Neue [iTunes Link] by Big Stone Phone is the latest incarnation from the family of Twitter clients that became extremely popular a couple of years ago. Forget about those, because besides the egg icon, everything was been redrawn and rethought to please today’s user needs.
The most surprising thing with Twittelator Neue is its picture-centric approach. It's clear that Ollie Wagner and Andrew Stone took in consideration the huge popularity of photo-sharing services on Twitter - see Instagram - and decided to include it in the core of the client from day one.
The result is a rather pleasing experience where the app teases you to have a quick peek at pictures integrating them directly on your timeline. Simply tap the image and a fancy animation will transition to the full view mode, displaying the picture on its own stripped from the odd TwitPic or Instagram web elements.
The same can be said for URL links. Tapping on a tweet with a link will open small preview of the site, allowing you to move to the full screen browser with a simple finger gesture. I have seen similar mechanics in the official Twitter app version for the iPad, so it's nice to see the concept on a smaller device too. As a side note, iTunes links seem to be blocked, so no worrying about abandoning the app to open the App Store automatically.
Fresh air for iOS interfaces
Let’s be clear: all of us have already chosen our favourite clients and swear by it. Most of us won't even consider giving other alternatives a go - we're so used to it that anything else will feel awkward. In my case, I care about the looks. I never got used to Twitterrific or the original Twittelator for that matter. Even now, the so hyped Tweetbot has abandoned my iPhone and I stick to the old trusty Osfoora.
As I already anticipated, Twittelator Neue introduces a very light, airy timeline interface that ditches all unnecessary information - what you consider “unnecessary” will eventually be the deal breaker. The name of the app explains what you’ll see here: grey on white background tweets in a lovely Neue Helvetica font type. The combination looks superb, but it's the smaller details, animations and other adornments that make it sing.
The corners of the app have been rounded dramatically to recreate some sort of card effect. The bottom bar to used access the usual sections (profile, DMs, timeline, mentions and settings) also had to be redrawn to fit with those cornered edges. The result is a slider bar that floats on top of the content, giving the false impression of extra space. This menubar automatically hides when not in use so you can change spaces directly swiping left or right anywhere on the screen.
The floating menus are also implemented in white to interact with individual tweets. Just tap and hold to reply, retweet, favourite, save or share a particular item. This comes particularly handy when you are saving links to Instapaper for example. There’s also a minimal unobtrusive notification at the top to say that the content has been saved correctly.
There are other details of graphic genius that don't affect usability directly. The “pull to refresh” gesture has an origami twist and direct messages have a subtle international post theme. It's clear that Ollie Wagner is a very talented designer and it shows great understanding of the platform after working a Apple.
Pray that your favourite feature isn't missing
If you want to try and eventually switch to Twittelator Neue, you must be gutted if one of your favourite features isn't included in the current version yet. I'm not a big user of hashtags, but I'm sure many will find annoying that the app doesn't bother to suggest or remember any.
Other people are used to manage their timelines with a ’mute’ function that this app doesn't include. There are other small annoyances such as the manual scrolling to top and bottom, automatic refresh or the amount of tweets loaded at a time, but hopefully these will be appear at some point to make the experience more pleasant.
At the moment of this writing (v1.0.2), Twittelator Neue doesn't run native notifications on iOS 5, which is quite a downer. As I previously posted, I'm a big fan of the new Notification Center and having to rely on Boxcar for this is very disappointing. Again, I don't think the implementation takes too much work and maybe we’ll be able to have this soon in a new update.
Overall, Twittelator Neue is a refreshing comeback to the almost defunct Twitter client scene. The new incarnation is an elegant work of craftsmanship that elevates a simple idea to everyday visual joy. So far it's still in its nappies and misses some basic features others have. I'm hopeful the developers still have some polish left for those minor tweaks and correct an almost perfect release.
I don't know if future iOS design will follow this trail but I don't really care. Considering the current state of twitter clients on the App Store, Twittelator Neue feels like a bespoke product designed for a very lucky minority. I won't doubt about supporting the effort and feeling special with every tweet.