Wanted: decent Android Twitter app

A screenshot from the Android twitter client HTC PeepI’ve used Android since 2009, and I’m currently on my fourth phone and first tablet. I’ve used Twitter since about the same time, maybe a little bit more. Having a smartphone pretty much makes Twitter useful; it means you can communicate when you’re not at your desk and read and share things there and then rather than later, when they may have sunk down the timeline already and interest may have waned. My first smartphone came with a pretty awful Twitter client, HTC Peep, which slowed down my whole phone and I ultimately ditched it for Seesmic, which at the time worked a lot better. Time has moved on, Seesmic has been bought out and only infrequently now updates its client (and removed several of its others), and there are a whole lot of new contenders, yet none that is free of irritating bugs and missing features. It’s no secret that Twitter has taken against third-party clients, preferring that everyone use their website or their in-house clients which also both deliver adverts. Their mobile website has improved a little bit, but it’s still over-engineered and tries to be an app rather than a website; the result is that it’s slow and that it changes while you look at it. The two main clients now are Plume and TweetCaster, but there are quite a few others: UberSocial, Carbon, Tweedle, Falcon Pro, Twicca and Tweetings among others. Several of these are now unable to accept new users as Twitter limited the number of users each app could have, a problem that does not appear to affect some of the older clients, and which Falcon Pro and Tweedle partly got round by allowing users to use their own tokens rather than the app’s (i.e. to register a fake application, which means a tweet would show as coming from that rather than the real app), though this is against the rules.

There are a few “must have” features I need in a Twitter app, and they are not the ones that a developer might think of. One of them is that, when I reply to a tweet that has been retweeted, it automatically includes the person who retweeted it in the mentions. I can, of course, delete them, but I need that person to be in by default because it is that person who I follow and who is responsible for me seeing the original tweet. This is the standard behaviour on the Twitter app and website, TweetDeck, Plume and TweetCaster, but you don’t get it on UberSocial, Tweetings or Falcon Pro. I complained about this to UberSocial’s developers; their app allows you to reply to the retweeter, or the original author and anyone mentioned in the tweet, but not both. They said they would address that soon, but several releases later and they still haven’t. Falcon Pro simply ignored my request, and Tweetings told me that it was against Twitter’s automation guidelines. How this can be true when Twitter themselves do it in all their apps is beyond me ; however, I attempted to ask Twitter themselves whether it was against the guidelines, and got what amounts to an RTFM response from one Britney Rizzo:

Hello,

While developing your service further please review our API Terms of Service (https://dev.twitter.com/terms/api-terms), as well as our Display Requirements (https://dev.twitter.com/terms/display-requirements). Finally please ensure that your service is not causing or facilitating users to violate the Twitter Rules (https://support.twitter.com/articles/18311-the-twitter-rules). If you still have questions after reading our rules, please let us know.

Regards,

Twitter Platform Operations

I actually made it clear in my email that I was not “providing a service” but trying to get someone else to improve their app, but it’s clear they didn’t bother to read it properly. I emailed back asking them to just answer my question, but they didn’t respond to that. (Note: Tweetings rectified this after this entry was published.)

A screenshot of TweetCaster, an Android Twitter clientThe most featureful client is TweetCaster, but that’s let down by bugs and by a kind of childish, toy-like design aesthetic. Its logo is a kind of scrawny-necked, footless blue bird which really doesn’t stand out on your home screen like the icon for just about every other client does, and when you open it, you’ll find the tweet screen somewhat cluttered due to a lack of space in between the tweets. Click on any tweet and it will show you a big menu with all the things you could do (including view profiles of people mentioned or open the links) that may stretch off the screen; many other clients will show you a screen for that tweet with buttons for options. One thing it doesn’t allow you to do is copy the permalink to a tweet itself, which is important as you may want to embed a tweet in a blog posting or put it in another tweet. There just is no way of doing this. I wrote an email to TweetCaster’s developers two days ago and mentioned this among other defects and was told that the “ability to do this within the app may be added at some point”; however, this feature would take literally five minutes to add, as would solving the cluttered look of the timelines on phones (it looks much better on tablets).

I’ve mostly used Plume since I settled on it in 2010 or so (it was originally Touiteur, but Twitter asked them to change the name as it’s basically how you’d spell Twitter if it were French). Initially it was a very pretty client, with the links in different tweets coloured differently, for example, but this has disappeared in recent releases, perhaps for compliance with Android 4 aesthetics and perhaps because it may have slowed the app down, although I never noticed this. It’s proven to be the least full of these kind of annoying bugs and its developers generally respond when you point out problems over Twitter. One feature that’s important to me is a “retweets of me” list, and this is one area where Plume falls down — it has the column in the user profile, but it shows each RT as an individual tweet and, for some reason, leaves off the most recent two or three. I complained about another bug (which is where tweets, including direct messages, would remain highlighted as “unread” until you read each one, when in fact they had been read elsewhere), and they fixed it in a release today, but the “retweets of me” bug still remains.

The remainder, sadly, have a lot of “flash” but don’t match it with substance and have all the bugs. I complained to the developer of Falcon repeatedly about the need to include a retweeter in the mentions when replying, as well as a couple of other issues, but never got any response from him (and he does respond to others who contact him about his product), despite having paid for the product while it was still available on the Play Store. Tweedle expects you to make feature requests on their “user voice” website, but my suggestion sank without trace.

I’ve been seriously looking at getting an iPad the last couple of weeks, a major reason being the better quality of apps available. A Retina screen iPad mini starts at £319 (although you can save about £30 by ordering online), which is about £150 more than my Nexus 7 cost (I have a first-generation model), but a brief look at the apps available shows that the lion’s share of developers’ energy goes into iOS with Android looking like something of an afterthought in terms of both features and quality. I’ve long said that there are some features of Android that I like better — notably the fact that you get a selection of keypads and they’re all better than Apple’s (three keypresses for an underscore, for example, rather than one long press as on Swype) — and an iPhone is too expensive to even consider, but a brief test on a relative’s iPad showed that its apps blew away almost anything on Android, and not just the Twitter apps. I use Tweetbot on my Mac and that shows how a Twitter client ought to be done. Really, everything works. I’m quite sure it’s possible to produce a Twitter client on Android that good, but nobody has quite managed it yet, and they’re letting the whole platform down.

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