As I reminisced last year in my look at the state of Twitter clients, iOS apps for Twitter are no longer the welcoming, crowded design playground they once were. Developing a Twitter client used to be an exercise in taste and restraint – a test for designers and developers who sought to combine the complex networking of Twitter with a minimalist, nimble approach best suited for a smartphone. Twitter reclaimed their keys to the playground when they began offering "guidance" on the "best opportunities" available to third-party developers. Four years into that shift, no major change appears to be in sight.
For this reason, I'd argue that while the iPhone witnessed the rise of dozens of great Twitter clients in their heyday, the iPad's 2010 debut played against its chances to receive an equal number of Twitter apps specifically and tastefully designed for the device. Less than a year after the original iPad's launch (and the Tweetie acquisition), Twitter advised developers to stop building clients that replicated the core Twitter experience; a year later, they started enforcing the 100,000-token limit that drove some developers out of business. Not exactly the best conditions to create a Twitter client for a brand new platform.
Largely because of the economic realities of Twitter clients, few developers ever invested in a Twitter app for iPad that wasn't a cost-effective adaptation of its iPhone counterpart. Many took the easy route, scaling up their iPhone interfaces to fit a larger screen with no meaningful alteration to take advantage of new possibilities. Functionally, that was mostly okay, and to this day some very good Twitter apps for iPad still resemble their iPhone versions. And yet, I've always felt like most companies had ever nailed Twitter clients for a 10-inch multitouch display.
With two exceptions. The original Twitter for iPad, developed by Tweetie creator and pull-to-refresh inventor Loren Brichter, showed a company at the top of their iOS game, with a unique reinterpretation of Twitter for the iPad's canvas. The app employed swipes and taps for material interactions that treated the timeline as a stack of cards, with panels you could open and move around to peek at different sets of information. I was in love with the app, and I still think it goes down in software history as one of the finest examples of iPad app design. Until Twitter ruined it and sucked all the genius out of it, the original Twitter for iPad was a true iPad app.
And then came Tweetbot. While Twitter stalled innovation in their iPad app, Tapbots doubled down and brought everything that power users appreciated in Tweetbot for iPhone and reimagined it for the iPad. The result was a powerful Twitter client that wasn't afraid to experiment with the big screen: Tweetbot for iPad featured a flexible sidebar for different orientations, tabs in profile views, popovers, and other thoughtful touches that showed how an iPhone client could be reshaped in the transition to the tablet. Tapbots could have done more, but Tweetbot for iPad raised the bar for Twitter clients for iPad in early 2012.
Three years later, that bar's still there, a bit dusty and lonely, pondering a sad state of affairs. Tweetbot is no longer the champion of Twitter clients for iPad, having skipped an entire generation of iOS design and new Twitter features. Tweetbot for iPad is, effectively, two years behind other apps on iOS, which, due to how things turned out at Twitter, haven't been able to do much anyway. On the other hand, Twitter for iPad – long ignored by the company – has emerged again with a stretched-up iPhone layout presented in the name of "consistency". It's a grim landscape, devoid of the excitement and curiosity that surrounded Twitter clients five years ago.
Tweetbot 4 wants to bring that excitement back. Long overdue and launching today on the App Store at $4.99 (regular price will be $9.99), Tweetbot 4 is a Universal app that builds upon the foundation of Tweetbot 3 for iPhone with several refinements and welcome additions.
In the process, Tweetbot 4 offers a dramatic overhaul of the iPad app, bringing a new vision for a Twitter client that's unlike anything I've tried on the iPad before.