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Saturday
Nov072009

The state of Twitter iPhone Apps.

While working at Twitterfall, we've been developing a new iPhone application to replace the current one. This will be released as an update with no extra cost. During this time, I've been doing some market research and looking into the other iPhone apps. I'd like to comment on the following apps:

A screenshot of the icons from the iPhone

Echofon, Tweetie, Twitterific PremiumTwittelator ProTweetdeckBirdfeed and Echofon Pro. While Birdhouse is on the list, I couldn't think of anything to say about it. There's just not enough there.

Birdfeed

Birdfeed has several features that I absolutely adore. First of all, it's very pretty. The tweet view is very pretty, although scrolling can lag slightly.

My Timeline in Birdfeed

When viewing your own tweets, you have the ability to delete them. This is a feature that many Twitter clients seem to ignore. One of my favourite features in this app is from when you close a tweet midway through writing it. In other Twitter clients this tweet would be disregarded, or left in the tweet box for next time. However, Birdfeed notifies you that a tweet has been partially written by using the icon placed below. Many Mac users will recognise this concept, and it is very welcoming to see it.

Birdfeed draft icon

These draft tweets are even saved across each account.

Echofon

Echofon was one of the first iPhone apps that I really started to use. Since then, it's added adverts, which I can understand. While the need to differentiate between a premium version and a standard version is necessary, i'm not fully sure that this was the best option, even if it is very effective (I bought the premium version). 

One thing I've started to really dislike about Echofon is the invention of a forward button in the title bar. The idea of taking an existing UI element and changing it into something you need does seem sensible, but you have to wonder why Apple haven't done it themselves nor anybody else. The button below looks odd, and doesn't exactly match the back buttons that the shape is usually associated with. As well as this, the button also has two lines of text which isn't consistent with a navigation controller's back button. Thank you to @miketomasello for pointing out how wrong I was.

User Lookup Button from Echofon

Echofon Pro

The premium version of Echofon really disappoints me. The additional features just don't seem to be anything I really care about. The main reason to upgrade is to remove the advertising, which in-itself is probably worth the upgrade. The other main two features are push notifications and multi-account support.

The multi-account feature is accessed by tapping the, now grey, navigation bar. The decision to move to grey was, in my opinion, a bad one. The blue was very nice, and gave the application a friendliness that I really enjoyed. The new darker navigation bar is depressing.

The second major premium feature is push notifications. I've never used push notifications on my iPhone, I just don't see the need for it. It uses up battery due to the extra connection, and just doesn't seem that necessary when I'm connected nearly all the time anyway.

Another feature that appears in the premium version, is the ability to sync unread tweets between the different version of Echofon. If you use Echofon for Mac or Echofon for Firefox, then Echofon will sync the last tweet that you read to its cloud. Then when you come to view the tweets on another device/client, you'll be able to keep up from where you left off.

Tweetie

Tweetie's main design decision seems to be "How much of this can we write ourselves?". You'll notice a lot of custom elements within the application. For example, the tab bar at the bottom of your timeline or the "drop down" menus when you press something like "Services".

The Services And More Drop Downs from Tweetie

While a lot of the custom controllers are very pretty, and make you say "Wow" the first time you see them, they don't replace the idea of good design which will make you say "Wow" every time. Some of the elements make you think "Why is it like that?", not "Why would it be any other way?".

Notwithstanding, Tweetie is the most popular Twitter application for the iPhone and for good reason. A lot of innovation originally came from the application with its simple design and snappy response, but I think this might be leading to an over-complicated Twitter client with lots of flashy gimmicks to ensure that users remained excited.

Tweetdeck

The attributes that immediately spring to mind when people mention Tweetdeck are that it's very heavy and very dark.

So, what's the iPhone app like? Well, it's very heavy and very dark.

The application also features its own notification system, for reasons that are beyond me. Tweetdeck's developers seem to have followed Tweetie when it comes to writing sections of their iPhone application. In Tweetdeck's case, they've rewritten the tab bar to make accessing each type of tweet difficult and therefore requiring a new way to notify users rather than buttoning a tab bar item.

Tweetdeck also seems to have one of the worst hacks of all these iPhone applications. On the tab bar, there is a button label More. Upon pressing this button a bar appears with, what was originally one, two buttons. One of the buttons is Quick Follow, when you press this an alert dialog appears asking you to type in a username.

Tweetdeck's More Button

 

Twitterific Premium

Twitterific, like Tweetdeck is another application that feels very heavy. It lags while scrolling, as well as many other operations. It features a Sources page that contains such items as Public Timeline, the Trends and Quick Search. Selecting Quick Search leads you to the following page:

Quick Search page for Twitterific

As you can see, this pane is a little long and not quite as quick as the name suggests.

Once you're looking at tweets, the interface gets more confusing. The toolbar contains 5 icons that aren't really obvious as to their meaning.

Twitterific's Tool Bar

The first two are reasonably understandable, referring to a refresh button and a compose tweet button. However, the other three are slightly ambiguous. The middle icon appears to give you access to some of your account's followers, following users and recently seen. The greyed out icon is a favourite star. Upon pressing a tweet, you can favourite it by then pressing this icon. The final button appears to be a funnel, which suggests to me that it's some kind of in-page filter or search. Upon pressing this, another toolbar shows up with access to @replies, direct messages, favourites (using a different star to the one for favouriting tweets), tweets from myself and marked tweets.

Twittelator Pro

I won't say too much about Twittelator Pro, because I think that a lot of what I'm going to say is summed up in the image below. One of the main issues I have with this application is when you're viewing tweets. To view information about that particular tweet or the user, you have to tap the tweeter's username. This isn't immediately obvious.

A lot of the tap gestures while viewing tweets has also been removed. The traditional functionality of tapping at the top of the screen has been replaced from scrolling to the top, to scrolling up 3 tweets. This is very annoying when you have a large number of tweets and want to see what's happening right now. Double tapping on the main tweet view scrolls up 3 tweets also. So if you weren't sure on how to copy and paste a tweet, since you don't just press the tweet row, you would double tap over the text and end up scrolling.

Finally, the settings pane lags when you're scrolling it. But how could a settings pane lag, you ask? The settings pane is shown below. It's approximately 9 pages of scrolling.

Twittelator's Settings Pane

Saturday
Oct312009

Magic Mouse

My magic mouse arrived this week. One of the major issues you'll have when seeing the Magic Mouse is that it is incredibly low. The low profile of the mouse at first seems daunting, upon receiving the Magic Mouse I tried to place my hands in the same position that they would be in if it was there.

It's almost impossible to do so, it hurts. However, when having your fingers on the mouse's smooth surface , the pressure seems to be taken off and the position is quite comfortable.



Another issue I've found is that it doesn't support enough gestures. Whether using a trackpad or a (now called) Apple Mouse, I've always had a shortcut to Exposé. With this mouse, that shortcut doesn't exist and it's quite a problem. While having both forward and back gestures is nice, I would much prefer an Exposé gesture.

My idea has been for a click with three fingers, although I'm sure that Apple has done plenty of usability tests regarding that and could come up with a slew of research to show me why that was a bad idea.

The major success story of this mouse is the removal of the scroll-ball. That scroll-ball has been the bane of my existence in the time I've used a (now-called) Apple mouse. I eventually had to retire one of my mice due to the scroll-ball continually jamming, even after a dismantling and cleaning.

The momentum is quite easy to get used to as long as you've used an iPhone and while I was slightly dubious about it at first, I've found myself not being able to turn it off.

Overall, the mouse is a nice feeling in the hand and I'd never want to go back to using an Apple Mouse. The only improvement would be a few more gestures.

Thursday
Aug202009

Cooling your Mac

As you saw previously, Flash on the Mac causes instant heat. Sometimes it's not very nice to be typing on a keyboard that's burning your fingers or sitting with a burnt lap.

One solution i've found, is to try and keep your Mac cool as much as possible. I try to keep my Mac's base temperature as low as possible. The method of doing this is to change the low-end fan speed. This can be done by using smcFanControl.

This application changes your Mac's fan's default speed allowing you to either speed them up, or slow them down. In this case, I've sped mine up. For my MacBook Pro, the default speed is 2000 rpm. I've changed mine to 3000 rpm. This lowers the temperature while not increasing noise substantially.

There is one downside to smcFanControl, the effects disappear upon a reboot. So, how's this fixable? If you load smcFanControl at start-up, then it'll set your speeds. However, then it'll continue to run, filling up your menu bar and adding another process onto your system.

My solution for this was to create an Automator script, that I like to call FanSpeeds.app. This Automator script will load smcFanControl.app from the Applications folder, wait 5 seconds (long enough for the fan speed to be changed) and then quits the application.

If you then set the Automator script to load at start-up, smcFanControl will change the fan speed and then disappear.

Wednesday
Aug052009

Flash on the Mac

Recently, with a group of friends, we'd be talking and then we'd hear a MacBook's fan spin-up. After questioning we'd find it's due to a flash advert on a webpage. Flash appears to be one of the worst made plug-ins ever.

So what's the fix?

In some cases it's possible to disable flash or use Adblock, but there's one glaring place where you can't: Youtube.

The solution I've found is a bookmarklet, which replaces the Flash player in Youtube with a Quicktime plugin. Quicktime's CPU usage is much lower than Flash's therefore leading to less need for the fan to speed up.

First of all you need to go to Joey Hagedorn's blogpost about it, then follow the instructions to bookmark it. I have it saved as the third item in my Bookmarks Bar. Therefore, everytime I go to Youtube, i hit Cmd + 3 and the Flash player is replaced with a Quicktime plugin. Sometimes I've found that the Quicktime plugin doesn't work, but this might be due to Youtube than the plugin itself.

Either way, for all those times you're watching Youtube videos and don't want the whirring of you fan, just switch it to a Quicktime plugin.