What’s the best iphone app for twitter? Depends on how you use it

I wrote an article for iphoneLife looking at a sampling of twitter applications for the iphone. The idea of the article was not to exhaustively compare and rate them because that is a losing battle.  Everyone uses twitter differently and as such, what is a great app for some people, is overkill for others.  So I broke it up into 3 types and users and gave a few example apps.  Knowing full well that no matter how many times I explain that my list is not a ‘favorites’ nor ‘comparative’ analysis, people are still going to be pissed that this app or that app was not listed.  So I’m putting this post up so people can argue. I will also read the comments and update the article bit by bit here because reprinting a bunch of magazines is just not particle. :)  So, here is the very abridged version article.  I will post the full article AFTER the magazine has been in print.

Twitter has been up and running for over three years, and we have had mature iPhone apps supporting Twitter for just over one year. It’s safe to say that Twitter took a big leap when the first crop of iPhone apps came out allowing people with limited SMS accounts to join the fun. As we enter the summer of 2009, the number of Twitter apps for the iPhone has grown, offering plenty of options.

One would think that one or two iPhone apps would be enough to support these basic capabilities. However, there are many other things you can do with Twitter.  As I started working on this article, I was impressed (and quickly overwhelmed) by the number of Twitter-related apps available for the iPhone and iPod touch.  This article will not attempt to provide an exhaustive list of these apps, nor am I going to rate them from best to worst. Instead, I’ll attempt to describe the different types of Twitter users out there and give you a couple of examples of apps that might be suitable for them.

New users are looking for basic, easy-to-use apps

For new users, many of the more advanced capabilities of Twitter can cause confusion. In most cases, the new user is looking for a simple, free app that does the basics. Instead of looking at feature lists, they are more interested in apps that are easy to use. User interface preferences are largely a matter of personal taste, thus one UI design is rarely “better” than another. However, two design principles are important. First, an easy-to-use UI should not be crowded with symbols or icons.  Second, the application’s features should not be buried deep in multiple screens and menu levels. As many options as possible should be easily accessible. With these points in mind, let’s look at a few apps that belong in this category.

NatsuLion  iphone.natsulion.org

NatsuLion is a simple, basic, and relatively fast Twitter application. It does not have photo upload or GPS location capability, groups, or the ability perform searches—that’s what I like about it! It covers all the basics and has a few nice tricks (like shaking the screen to hide navigation controls, conversation threading, and showing the original messages when writing a reply). It even offers two color schemes: light background for daytime viewing, and dark background for night.

TwitterFonn ntwitterfon.net

TwitterFon has a few more features than NatsuLion, but it still has a simple and easy-to-use interface. Additional features include the ability to upload images, search on tweets, and display tweets near you. Although you might not consider these basic features, even new users may want to do a little more than read and post basic tweets after a few weeks.

Casual users want easy-to-use apps with a few extras

As new users gain experience with Twitter, they may want to do a little (or a lot) more with the service. I call these slightly more experienced users that may user twitter a few times a day, “casual users.”

A casual user would still prefer a clean and simple interface, but they’re more interested in extra features than the new users. They may want the ability to upload photos, use location-aware features, check out trends, do advanced searches, and track multiple Twitter accounts. Fortunately, there are many great apps that provide most of these features.

Twinkle, LaTwit and TweetDeck

http://twitterfon.net/; tweetdeck.com, http://latwit.mac65.com/, http://tapulous.com/twinkle/

Twinkle is an old favorite. Although it has not kept up as well as other apps, it’s still a good example of what a typical user would want. Simple UI, uploading images, finding local tweeters and even allows access to Facebook. My only complaint, and it’s enough that so not ues this app, is you have to have a Tapulus account and it loads with the tapulaus account displayed by default.  Shame. Now for just plain oddness, you could try LaTwit. This application is for those who hate to be like anyone else. LaTwit has all the features you need as a causual users, but with an odd UI.  TweetDeck does not have as many features as Twinkle or LaTwit, but a clear winner because of its next Gen UI and its ability to sync with its desktop application. You can create groups in the desktop version and have those groups show up on the iPhone version. In addition, the UI and sounds on both the iPhone and desktop versions are similar, giving you a sense of continuity and making it

Power users want desktop features in the palm of their hand

Typical Twitter power users want multiple account support, a powerful saved search feature, integration with other social network services like Facebook or FriendFeed, conversation threading, trends, Instapaper, selection of third-party services, and more. Of course, developing such a feature-rich app costs a lot, so you can pretty much forget free solutions without advertising. But there are a couple of good commercial apps for the power user.

Twitterrific Premium and Tweetie  ($3.99; twitterrific.com) ($2.99; atebits.com)

Both Twitterrific Premium and Tweetie are a couple of great power apps with fairly small differences in their feature sets. For example, Twitterrific has slightly better search options and shows the original tweet when you reply to a message. Tweetie has groups and shows conversation threads. Fortunately, both developers continue to enhance their apps, and I would not be surprised to see them incorporating each other’s strengths in the near future. Tweetie has a slight edge over Twitterrific because of its UI, which is simpler and easier to use, especially for new and causal users.

Twittelator Pro  $4.99; stone.com

There is only one uber app available at the moment—Twittelator Pro. This app lets you record, edit, and tweet audio and video clips, create drafts and tweet off line, handle multiple Twitter accounts, post maps of your location and find nearby tweeters, conduct and save advanced searches, and much more. There are so many features that it takes a while to learn your way around this app. But power users will get used to it quickly enough.

Although Twittelator Pro is the most powerful of all iPhone Twitter apps I’ve seen so far, it’s not perfect. For example, it does not have extensive conversation threading like that found in Twitterreana, and it doesn’t show replies as NatisuLion does. The lesson: Power users may need more that one Twitter app to do everything they want.

More features coming soon

With the release of the new iPhone 3GS, we’re already starting to see new functionality incorporated into Twitter apps. An example of this is found in the latest version of Twitterlator Pro, which now includes video upload capability. Given their experience with the iPhone, I fully expect to see many of the current video streaming sites like Qik, uStream, Kyte and Flixwagon to offer something new for iPhone 3GS users. If fact, most of the better Twitter apps will probably incorporate some sort of simple video capture and post capability.  In addition, since the enhanced camera on the 3GS captures higher resolution images, we’ll probably see more effective image compression incorporated into many of these apps. (If you’re in an area without 3G, you don’t want to wait all day to upload an image via an EDGE connection.)

With the release of the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone OS 3.0, I think we’ll be seeing more new and improved Twitter apps and thus this post is a place where people can suggest new twitter apps.  I’ll try my best to keep up with you guys.

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