Twitter has become a popular social networking service due to its relative simplicity and open design. Rather than dealing with sophisticated user profiles and different forms of information, Twitter lets users do one thing: share 140-character snippets with other Twitter users in an open-ended social network. For users who frequently want to communicate their thoughts to others—especially using mobile devices—the iPhone has turned out to be an ideal platform. Today, there are 33 different iPhone apps for accessing and using the Twitter service, so rather than just mentioning one or two, we decided to cover them all. [Editor’s Note: Ten additional apps have been added to this article since it was originally posted.]
Some are general purpose, full-featured Twitter clients, and others are more limited, special-purpose Twitter apps. Our two top, highly recommended picks are the free app Twitterfon and the $3 app Tweetie, but since the varied programs offer many different features and emphases, we use this mega-roundup to show you what all of them are capable of doing—you may find that a second-tier pick works better for your particular needs. A summary of all 33 programs and their ratings is found below, followed by eight total pages of photos and reviews if you want to see everything inside.
Note up front that many app developers are now leveraging Twitter to share information from their own, separate applications. Examples include Cocktails+, which can post information on selected drink recipes to Twitter, and apps such as Darkslide (formerly Exposure) and MobileFotos, which can post links to Flickr photos to your Twitter feed. Unfortunately, there is no common framework for posting to Twitter, so each Twitter app has its own specific method, and third-party apps have to integrate with specific Twitter clients on your iPhone to handle posting. Twitterrific is the most common of these apps since it was the first Twitter app to provide such integration, and though many of these developers have expanded their options to include other Twitter clients, not all apps include the same Twitter clients. For instance, Cocktails+ supports Twitterrific, Tweetie, and Twittelator, while Darkslide supports Twitterrific, Tweetie, Twitterfon and normal web posts via Safari. Thus, if posting information to Twitter from other apps is important to you, you should consider which Twitter clients are supported by your favorite developers before making a purchase.
One of the first Twitter applications available on the App Store last summer was The Iconfactory’s iPhone version of their popular Mac Twitter client, Twitterrific. Twitterrific for the iPhone is available in two versions: Twitterrific, a free ad-supported version, and Twitterrific Premium ($10) which basically just omits the advertising. We previously reviewed both versions in this article, but discuss them again here for sake of completeness, and update their ratings based on today’s radically different competitive landscape.
The differences between the two versions are quite subtle: both versions are fully functional Twitter clients, with the only major difference being that the free version displays relatively unobtrusive ads at the top of your Twitter feed.
In addition to removing the ads, the paid version also provides the option of displaying a light gray background theme, rather than the default dark one.
Beyond these two differences, the two versions provide the same features and function in much the same way.
As with its desktop counterpart, Twitterrific provides a relatively minimalist approach to the Twitter experience. Rather than providing separate screens for different types of information, a single timeline displays all of the twitter messages you are following, including replies to you and direct messages, which are both color-coded to distinguish them from normal tweets.
Tweets from people you are following are always shown in your timeline, but you can filter which other types of messages are displayed in your timeline from the Twitterrific settings screen, including the option of including the main Twitter public timeline. Twitterrific loads a limited number of tweets from your timeline, however any replies, direct messages or tweets that you have marked as favorites will remain in your timeline for a longer period.
You can view more information about a specific tweet by double-tapping on it, or single-tapping to select it and then tapping the appropriate icon at the bottom of the screen. From this screen, you are provided with additional options to reply, post a new tweet, mark the current tweet as a favorite, or get more info about the user. You can also scroll through your timeline from here simply by flicking up and down in the main window.
Twitterrific also provides on-screen help throughout, which can be turned off once you’re familiar with the application.
When posting a new tweet, Twitterrific also provides options to toggle between a normal public tweet, a reply, or a direct message, insert a photo from the camera or your photo library, or insert location information, either in the form of a Google Maps link or simply by updating your Twitter profile location.
Beyond this, Twitterrific offers no built-in capabilities for searching Twitter, viewing trends, or even viewing more detailed user profile information such as followers. Instead, Twitterrific takes the approach of turning you over to the mobile Twitter web page in its built-in browser for any of these actions—tapping on a user name, for example, will open that user’s Twitter homepage in the browser.
One other feature of note is that Twitterrific provides the ability to install a bookmarklet in Mobile Safari on the iPhone to post the current web page as a link to Twitter. This feature works quite well, and Twitterrific helpfully even provides the option in its settings to create the bookmarklet for you automatically.
As one of the first mainstream Twitter apps to provide external access from other applications, several other developers have integrated with Twitterrific for posting information to Twitter. For example, applications such as Cocktails and Darkslide can both use Twitterrific to post information to your Twitter feed, although these applications have only recently expanded to provide integration with other Twitter clients. On the flip side, Twitterrific provides no integration in the other direction: for example, you cannot e-mail out or re-post links to tweets or even web links that you may have opened without opening them in Mobile Safari first.
While it started out especially strong in the early days of iPhone apps, Twitterrific is today far from the most full-featured Twitter client out there, and will likely only be of primary interest to basic Twitter users. That having been said, it has a clean and very nicely polished user interface, and it seems clear that the developer has deliberately taken this minimalist approach; providing simple but very intuitive Twitter functionality and preferring to keep all of your information in a single timeline to avoid any unnecessary clutter. Users looking for a simple and clean Twitter application that integrates with other iPhone apps will find the free version of Twitterrific to be a good option. On the other hand, at $10, Twitterrific Pro is the single most expensive Twitter application on the App Store by a considerable margin, and offers absolutely nothing of significant value for its steep price tag. Whereas it was merely overpriced before, as a $10 app today, it strikes us as ludicrously expensive for what it offers. iLounge rating (Twitterrific): B+. iLounge Rating (Twitterrific Premium): D.
Tweetie ($3) is a more comprehensive Twitter client, providing a full set of Twitter related features, including the ability to not only view your own timeline, but browse through other users’ timelines, view trends, view nearby tweets, and conduct Twitter searches.
Tweetie takes the approach of dividing your own Twitter feed into three different categories: your normal timeline displaying tweets from anybody you’re following, a “Replies” timeline which displays any tweets directed specifically at you, and a “Messages” timeline which is used to display direct messages sent and received. A favorites timeline is also available to show any tweets you have marked as favorites.
The More button in the bottom-right corner provides additional options for viewing your own profile, looking up a specific Twitter user, or searching Twitter for either nearby tweets, trends or just performing a general search. You can also save any previous searches, which will be listed on this screen for quick access.
Selecting an individual tweet from your timeline will provide a detailed view of that particular tweet, with active links for any web references or other Twitter user IDs that you can tap on to display the appropriate pages. If the tweet in question is a reply to another user, a button is also displayed to allow you to view the original tweet. Tapping on a web link will open that web page in Tweetie’s built-in browser, while tapping on a Twitter user ID will take you to that user’s Twitter profile within Tweetie itself. Tweetie also filters iTunes Store links, and notifies you with a pop-up when opening them to confirm that you would like to leave the Tweetie application and open the iTunes Store or App Store applications. One other nice point of integration is that Twitpic links for photos will open just the picture, rather than the whole Twitpic web page. From here, you can zoom and pan using standard iPhone gestures, but unfortunately landscape viewing is not supported.
Using the buttons at the bottom of the screen, you can choose to repost a tweet, post a link to the tweet, or e-mail out a link to the tweet, mark the tweet as a favorite, or reply to the tweet.
When viewing a tweet, you can also tap on the information button near the top-right corner to display the user’s Twitter profile, including options to follow or stop following the user, send a reply or direct message to the user. view their recent tweets, or see a list of the users that they are following or being followed by.
When posting a new tweet or a reply, you can also insert photos from your iPhone camera or saved photos, add a map link, or simply update your location in your Twitter profile.
You can also quickly reply to a tweet or mark it as a favorite from the normal timeline simply by swiping across the tweet. The actual tweet is replaced by icons for replying, viewing the user’s profile, or marking the tweet as a favorite.
Tweetie includes a few additional options which can be accessed from the main iPhone or iPod touch Settings application, including the ability to switch between a simple theme or an iChat-style “chat bubbles” theme, choose your font size, and configure integration with Instapaper. This latter option allows Instapaper users to mark any links to be saved for later reading offline in the Instapaper app.
The advanced settings allow you to enable support for multiple Twitter accounts, choose image compression settings, select a landscape keyboard orientation for writing tweets, and configure the “Popularity Enhancer” which provides a flashlight option on the “More” screen, plus some additional sound effects.
Tweetie also provides third-party integration capabilities, allowing it to be used by other third-party software to post information to Twitter. It is also possible to create a bookmarklet in Mobile Safari for posting links via Tweetie, however, this bookmarklet must be created manually by following instructions on the developer’s web site.
Tweetie is a very functional Twitter client that will satisfy Twitter power users while still being relatively easy to navigate and use. It is also one of the few Twitter clients on the iPhone that supports multiple Twitter accounts. Unfortunately, there are a couple of small limitations that we noted. Firstly, the “landscape keyboard” option does not enable the orientation sensor—it merely presents the keyboard in a landscape orientation all the time, as opposed to the default portrait orientation—a minor issue considering that this is the only Twitter client that provides any support for a landscape keyboard at all. However, more significantly, the timeline view buttons at the bottom do not provide any indicators for new content. This is particularly concerning since direct messages and replies from people you are not following are only shown on the respective tabs, and with no notification that messages are pending it’s very easy to miss replies unless you check these tabs regularly—something that happened to us on more than one occasion while using Tweetie. Hopefully these limitations will be addressed in a future update. Other than these two relatively minor deficiencies, Tweetie is a very functional and well-polished Twitter client. iLounge Rating: A-.
Twitterfon (Free) takes a similar approach to Tweetie in its general layout, with the normal timeline, replies, messages and favorites divided into separate sections, selected from a menu bar at the bottom of the screen. As an additional nice touch, each section has a different colored header to provide a visual cue of which one you’re currently viewing. Twitterfon provides unread item counts at the bottom of the screen to indicate any areas where unread tweets are pending, with counts shown for the number of new tweets in your general timeline, new replies to you and new direct messages to you indicated over the appropriate buttons. New entries are also highlighted in a different color in each timeline to help distinguish them from previously-viewed items.
Twitterfon provides a full range of searching features as well. These are incorporated within a single search screen, accessed by tapping the Search button in the bottom right corner. From here, you can type in a search term directly or tap on the bookmark icon to select from a list of recent searches. You can view a list of trends by tapping on the speech balloon button in the top-right corner.
You can also perform a location-based search by tapping on the target reticle icon to the immediate left of the search field. The search field changes to display a range to search within, which you can adjust by tapping on it a second time.
From any of the timelines, tapping on a user’s avatar will open a reply window to that user, while tapping on the text of an individual tweet will display a detailed view of that tweet and a brief display of the user’s profile, with options to reply, send a direct message, re-tweet, or view the user’s timeline or profile. Unlike Tweetie, there is no support for e-mailing out tweets directly, or posting a link to a tweet, as opposed to re-posting the text of the tweet itself.
If there are any links within the tweet, a blue arrow appears to access these links. This blue arrow will also appear in the timeline view. Tapping the blue arrow will take you to a list of the links in the tweet if there are multiple links, or directly to the linked item if there is only a single link. Links are opened in the built-in browser, which also provides support for viewing pages in both portrait and landscape modes. From the built-in browser you can open the current page in Mobile Safari or e-mail a link to the page directly out via your device’s Mail app. Twitterfon also recognizes iTunes Store links, and notifies you with a pop-up when opening them to confirm that you would like to leave the Twitterfon application and open the iTunes Store or App Store applications.
Links to another Twitter user will display their profile page, as will selecting the “Profile” option when viewing a specific tweet. From the user’s profile page, you can view a list of people who are following them, who they are following, their recent updates, and their favorites. You can also choose to follow or stop following a given Twitter user from here.
When posting a new tweet, you can update your Twitter location profile and/or attach a photo from the iPhone camera or your saved photos. Unlike Tweetie and Twitterrific, no option is provided to insert an actual map link. Twitterfon does, however, provide one additional useful feature in the form of a button that allows you to browse through your Twitter friends list—people you are following—and insert a reference to the selected user’s Twitter ID. This allows you to quickly select a person to direct your tweet to or reference another user from within your tweet. Twitterfon automatically retains whatever you’ve typed in the input box until you either post it or specifically clear the input box by tapping on the trash can button.
Twitterfon also takes a slightly different approach to the direct messages section, with only the most recent direct message shown for each user, similar to the iPhone’s SMS application. Tapping on an individual entry opens up an iChat-style timeline, displaying the full conversation.
Like Twitterrific and Tweetie, Twitterfon also provides support for integration from third-party applications such as Darkslide, as well as support for a bookmarklet in Mobile Safari, although like Tweetie, this bookmarklet must be created manually by following instructions on the developer’s web site.
Twitterfon is a well-rounded Twitter client that provides most of the standard features that a serious Twitter user would expect. It lacks some of the more advanced customizability and other bells and whistles that some of the other Twitter applications have, but all of the required features are present, and it’s a very full-featured option considering the free price. iLounge Rating: A-.