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Twittelator for iPad: Best Twitter App Yet?

Twitter clients are like word processors and spreadsheets in the ’90s: they’re everywhere, on every device for every operating system. Whether you want to access your Twitter stream, check upon your friends’ location or just tweet the song you’re listening to - you can. If the App Store’s unofficial motto is “there’s an app for that”, Twitter could seriously use a “there’s a client for that” pitch someday.

And it’s not like developers haven’t spotted the gold mine in there: I know some guys who made serious money out of it and hell, Twitter has even acquired Tweetie from Atebits to make sure to deliver the best Twitter experience on the iPhone. You know, Loren’s app is simply the best client around and people were confused of  going into the App Store, search for Twitter and download Echofon in exchange. It wasn’t exactly the best scenario for Twitter, and so instead of go developing their own software, they bought the king. As you can guess, this move made many 3rd party developers worried that they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the platform anymore: really, developing and selling a client for Twitter when it’s Twitter itself that has the best app around, renamed “Twitter for iPhone”, and gives it away for free in the App Store? It’s been difficult for many devs to accept the news and keep working on their stuff, and I’m not blaming them. But you know, I think that sometimes it’s all about offering different point of views: having the official client as competitor doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up.

Let’s talk about the iPad now. What about Twitter clients on the iPad? There aren’t too many of them, and most of them are crap sold at $2.99. Fortunately, the Iconfactory has shown us once again what being great developers mean, and they released Twitterrific for iPad on day one and, as you may have read, it’s one of the best Twitter apps for iPad around. Not because it’s just better than the others (of course it is) but because it’s a really great piece of software on its own, period. There’s another developer though, who firmly believed in his creation and released a client on day one: Andrew Stone, the mind behind Twittelator. Twittelator for iPad (previously known as Twittelator Pad) was highly criticized for its “original” user interface and design choices, but Andrew kept working hard on the app, refined the experience and I now I have to say, Twittelator for iPad really is one of the best Twitter apps for iPad.

The best one, maybe? Keep on reading to find out.

Let’s go straight to the most popular point: Twittelator for iPad has a particular interface. It’s a very original creation that, in my opinion, successfully mixes columns, native iPhone OS UI elements and swipe actions to create an interesting experience I haven’t seen anywhere else for sure. Yes, I don’t think there’s another Twitter client like Twittelator for iPad, and this is no doubt where Andrew nailed it. He managed to release an application that comes with lots of cool and fresh ideas, exactly what I expect from a new platform like the iPad. Basically, everything relies on the fact that you can customize the look and feel of the app by choosing your own background, as the interface is made of floating panels that take advatange of the larger screen to present more elements at the same time. When in landscape mode you have this left column for your timeline (the people you follow) which can’t be moved or resized, it just sits there. The cool thing is, all the other “sections” you’re used to see in Twitter clients like replies and DMs are allocated into a floating iPhone-esque tab bar which contains lots of additional stuff like lists, search, settings and channels. This means that while the timeline is always visible and auto-updating (you can set up some preferences for this anyway) you can keep switching back and forth between sections to see what else is happening. There’s no left column in portrait mode though, so I suggest you to use the app in landscape mode only, which is simply better. To get the hang of it, take a look at the screenshots below.

Twittelator for iPad supports multi accounts, you can add as many as you want by using the Account button at the top of the timeline, which opens a popover that allows you to enter your Twitter credentials and authorize the app. I suspect this being still basic authorization, so an update with improved OAuth support should be on its way to the App Store. About the wallpaper and the people who criticize this application: I think that Andrew just chose the wrong background for the promo material. I mean, take a look at my setup and tell me if this isn’t elegant. It is, and the fact that you can choose your own background is something that makes a lot of sense to me. Finally, a developer who’s understood that developing an iPad app isn’t about making a bigger iPhone version. Twittelator for iPad gets the platform differences just right.

The first place you’d like to visit is the Settings screen: as in perfect Twittelator’s tradition, it’s full of stuff to customize and 3rd party services to set up - together with some minor touches I really appreciated. The app supports Instapaper, Read It Later, lots of URL shortening and image uploading services. You can even login with your account (more links for me) but, sadly, there’s no support for yet. I do think it’s one of the few complaints I have to make about the app. Together with these nice integrations, you can tell the app how many tweets to load on launch, specify auto refresh times, enable sound notifications and a horde of other options - including the infamous /via @ quote style. I chuckled when I saw it, because really - why doesn’t every application support it?

But you haven’t seen the best part yet, which happens to be the navigation between timeline, tweets and users. Just like in Tweetie for Mac (remember? The ever lasting 1.0 app) the greatest thing about using Twittelator is how easy you can move from the timeline to a tweet, from a tweet to a user profile, see some other tweets, fave a couple here and there, open a few web pages and maybe even send an article to Instapaper, then go back to the timeline again and retweet the latest joke by @Digeratii. All of this with a few taps, smooth animations and speed, speed, speed. If it’s not clear, the app is fast - so fast that sometimes it puts Twitterrific’s scrolling and loading times to shame. When you tap on a tweet, for example, the right “window” slides out and a single panel for the tweet comes in with options to fave it, reply, retweet and quote it, copy it, mail and instapaper it - hell you can even translate a tweet or tap on the name of the app your friend used to send it. It’s a feature orgy, but it doesn’t feel like all this stuff overwhelms you - everything’s unclutterred and minimal actually. But with two taps, you have the app on its knees begging you to do something with that tweet. While Twittelator for iPhone was an app meant for power users, the iPad version is enjoyable both by Twitter nerds and my mom, which isn’t exactly the techie type. Anyway, back to the features: when a reply is part of a conversation, you can see the whole convo. What about user profiles? You can jump to a profile by selecting a username from a single tweet: I would like to be able to select username from the main timeline too, thus avoiding to tap twice to perform one action. I think the implementation of Tweetie for Mac is almost perfect: usernames are always clickable no matter what you’re doing so, SDK limitations aside, the dev should find a way to spare us some taps and provide the final navigation goodness. However, profiles are nice: you get this elegant square panel on the right, which has paper-like buttons to see someone’s followers and tweets, lists, locations and website. You can also play with services like Follow Cost, Favstar and Tweeteorites from here. It’s useful.

About the web view: Twittelator doesn’t use modal windows in landscape mode, it’s full screen or nothing. I don’t know if I like this compared to Twitterrific, but sure I liked the possibility to re-tweet a link from the web view and send stuff to Instapaper. Well done.

Now on the tweeting part itself: it’s, again, feature rich. And it’s got one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while. Ok, let me spoil it straight up: there’s no button to send tweets. To prevent accidental tweets from unwanted taps on the screen, Andrew put a slider above the keyboard: when you have your tweet done, slide your finger on this arrow and boom, it goes online. It’s insanely great, as much as it’s simple and natural to interact with. The whole keyboard is actually pretty full of stuff: there are buttons for geotagging, hash tags, contacts (it’s a good thing that there’s a shortcut for recent followers), photo uploading, Unicode characters: it’s all there, served with tiny and good looking icons above the keyboard. Also: you can shorten links, shrink an entire tweet and convert a public tweet to a direct message with just a tap. And don’t forget that you save drafts too.

If you want to quote, fave a tweet or reply to a user you don’t necessarily have to act on the single tweet window: you can swipe on a tweet in the timeline to invoke a popover to reply or send a DM, or just tap and hold to make a popup (like the copy and paste one) appear on screen to quote, fave, retweet and copy the tweet. It’s very functional.

Last, I’d like to mention the possibility to start searches, check your lists and browse channels. Channels are cool, think of it as aggregators of specific topics and sub-topics such as Science, Sports or Technology > Apple. I don’t know what’s the system behind them, but they work great.

Twittelator for iPad is the most complete Twitter client currently available on the iPad. But features are nothing without user experience, Andrew Stone knows that and he’s built an app that manages to scale its feature set according to what you really need. Twittelator for iPad is another great example of scalable software, a rich app that can be used by users with basic needs, but that doesn’t lack the tools to appeal power users and, yes, even those who make business with Twitter. And again, navigation it’s a real pleasure - and trust me when I say that achieving a great and smoothless navigation is a hell of a task for a dev.

Should you buy it if you already have Twitterrific? It’s a solid app, with tons of useful functionalities and an amazing user experience. You know what to do.

Available at $4.99 in the App Store.

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