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March 26, 2010

Twitter apps for the iPhone

I love my iPhone. I love Twitter. So it stands to reason that I do a lot of Twitter stuff on my iPhone.  I follow so many people that I always have something to read whenever I have some time.

I spent last night, while watching the NCAA basketball games with my mom, exploring the three Twitter apps that I currently have on my iPhone (I don't use Tweetdeck, though I do have it installed, so maybe I'll explore that one next).  The three apps I was experimenting with are:  Twitterific, Echofon, and Hootsuite.  Here's my opinions on these very versatile apps.

1) Twitterific

This has always been my chosen app, as it has so many features I love and can do pretty much anything that I want it to do.  I don't have a Mac, so I have no idea how the Desktop version of the app is, but I do know I love my iPhone app.

First, I love the clean interface that Twitterific has.  You can see all the tweets in your timeline, as well as mentions of you, and direct messages.  Your posts are green, mentions of you are brown, direct messages are blue.  I'm not sure if these colours can be changed, but the important thing is that you can quickly peruse your timeline and see if there's anything directed at you.

The second thing I love about Twitterific is that it takes you to the last unread tweet when you re-open the app.  It doesn't take you to the top and make you scroll down.  I would love this for my desktop app!  Seesmic Desktop, my chosen desktop app, doesn't do this.  Thus, you will never have to try and remember where you left off.  It will only load up to 200 tweets at a time, so if you've been away from it for a few hours, it will just take you to the bottom of your list, as you will not have any "read" tweets. If you wish to catch up even more, you can always reload more tweets after the 200.

It's easy to check somebody's profile, as they're either two clicks away or you can set it up so double-tapping (or even triple-tapping) a userpic will take you right to their profile.  The profile will tell you who they're following and who is following them.  You can check their tweet timeline to see what other tweets they've done.  It will even tell you if they're following you!  You can also mark them as a "favourite" and it even allows you to write a note about this person for your own information.  This note will only be on your iPhone, nowhere else.  Maybe you want to comment on why you're following this person in case you forget later, or something like that.

Twitterific also allows you to shorten any URLs in your tweets, which really comes in handy and should be standard on any Twitter app.

You can handle multiple Twitter accounts in Twitterific as well, and it's very clean to use that way.  The main menu screen shows all of your accounts, as well as any saved searches you might have.  It also has a "nearby tweets" search function that will give you a timeline of tweets that have been posted recently near your current location.

Another cool thing is that you can set it up to follow a conversation.  In other words, if you see somebody say something like "@histerin the Canucks suck!" you can then set it up so you can see the conversation string:

"@histerin the Canucks suck!"
"@Flamesfan Iginla is a tool"
"@histerin You know the Flames rock"

The most important thing for me, though, is that it also has a text shortener!  I love that part of Seesmic Desktop so it's incredibly handy to have on here too.  Have you typed out a tweet that's 145 characters long and you want to shorten it?  Just tap on "shorten text" and it will do its best.  It will make "two" into "2" (or even "too" into "2") and the usual text shortcuts like that.  Sure, you can do it yourself too, but I find it easier to just do it automatically. That way I don't have to think about it.

There are a couple of minor issues with Twitterific, though they are certainly manageable.  I understand why some people hate the new Twitter RT (re-tweet) function, which doesn't allow you to comment on something you re-tweet.  However, one reason I love it is that you don't have to worry about going over the 140 character limit.  Usually, you have to take into account the "RT" and the username of the person who tweeted it, and that counts toward your 140 characters.  With the new RT function, you don't have to.  Unfortunately, Twitteriffic doesn't support that function yet.  That would be nice if they would integrate that in an update soon.

Another problem is that you can't reply to multiple people, or send a message to multiple people, without typing out the second/third/fourth username.  There is no "reply all" function, which I don't use that often, but it's annoying when I do want to use it.

Also, Twitterific does not have a landscape keyboard if you turn your phone 90 degrees.  That could be annoying for some.

Finally, cancelling a tweet and clearing the text is a two-step process.  I wrote to Iconfactory asking about that, and they explained why it is that way.  It's certainly understandable, but when other apps have one-touch cancellation, it's a bit annoying.  You have to first tap another button and then tap "clear all text."  Otherwise, the next time you try and tweet, the old text is still there if you haven't cleared it.  Not a game-killer, though.

All in all, though, Twitterific is a great Twitter app for your iPhone.  It's reasonably fast and has a lot of power.

2) Echofon

I just started using this one a little while ago, and it does have some powerful features.  It also has a very clear UI (user interface) that will load your timeline. It doesn't colour code tweets that involve you, however, so it could be easy to miss them

Which is why it's a good thing that Echofon does have separate pages for mentions of you and direct messages.  It also has a separate page where you can check any lists you've got set up.  I couldn't find this function in Twitterific.  Tapping on the "search" button will take you to any searches you have set up, or allow you to set up a new one.  This is also where you will find a "nearby tweets" timeline similar to Twitterific, though the location seems to be a lot closer than Twitterific's.  When I did this on Twitterific, I got a lot of tweets near my current location in Davenport, Iowa.  When I did it on Echofon, there weren't that many, though you can tell almost exactly where they are if they have geo-tagging set up on their Twitter account (even more of a reason not to enable that function).

Echofon also takes you to the bottom of your unread list, which is really handy.  It doesn't start you at the top and make you scroll down to find where you left off.  I initially thought it only loaded 20 tweets at a time, but today it's loading much more, so I'm not sure what the limit is before you have to "load more."  I would guess it's close to Twitterific's 200.

It's extremely easy to go to somebody's profile too, though it is a two-tap process.  Just click on somebody's tweet and then click on their username at the top of the page.  It will tell you if they're following you as well as if you're following them (in case you came to them in a way other than through your timeline).  It will also tell you what lists they have set up as well as any posts they've marked as "favorite".  It also makes it really easy to add them to a list, which is pretty cool if you use lists a lot.

If you go to your profile, it even can tell you which of your tweets have been re-tweeted!  Unfortunately, it doesn't tell you who did it, which the Twitter web site does.  Still, it's pretty cool.

Speaking of re-tweeting, Echofon does use the new RT function.  It gives you the option of re-tweeting with or without comment, so you get the best of both worlds (Seesmic Desktop, you have to go through two-clicks to tweet with a comment).  If you RT something without comment, you don't have to worry about the 140 character limit, but it won't show up in your timeline (it will show up on your profile, though, if somebody looks there).  If you do it with a comment, you do have to worry about the 140 character limit.  Echofon will even warn you if you're re-tweeting somebody who has made their tweets private, saying that you may be harming their security, which is a good thing.  Sometimes you don't even remember that they're protecting their tweets, and thus do it without thinking.  The warning is a nice touch.

It is very easy to cancel a tweet in Echofon, so you don't have to do the two-tap tango like you do on Twitterific.  You just click the "trash" icon and away it goes!  If you did it by accident, though, it's easy to retrieve, making it doubly simple!

Also, you can reply to all in a tweet that's directed at multiple people, and Echofon makes it easy to include multiple people in an original tweet, too.  That is very handy.  You don't have to type in any usernames.

Echofon does allow you to handle multiple Twitter accounts, though it can be a bit confusing at times in your general timeline, as the tweets get mixed up.  It loads the new tweets on your second account, but right underneath them are all the tweets from your first account that you were reading.  Thankfully, switching to the "mentions" or "direct messages" page and then back often clears them out, but it's still annoying.

Echofon does have a landscape keyboard if you turn your phone 90 degrees.

Finally, you can follow conversations the same way as you can in Twitterific.  Better yet, you can follow the conversation of back and forth direct messages too!

There is one problem with Echofon, though, and it is almost a dealbreaker.

You have to buy the Pro version to have an URL shortener!  The only reason this isn't a dealbreaker for me is because I don't use original URLs that often on my phone (just on my desktop) and thus it's not a horrible problem.  However, now that I've discovered how to tweet URLs from Safari (the iPhone's native web browser), I may be doing that more often.  We'll have to see.

The Pro version also has push notifications (this means it will pop up on your iPhone even if you don't have Echofon open) if you get a direct message or somebody mentions you in a tweet.

All in all, this is another excellent app, making the choice a bit harder.

3) Hootsuite

Hootsute on the web is very versatile, allowing you to link your Twitter, Facebook, and  LinkedIn accounts (and probably more that I'm not aware of).  The Hootsuite app for your iPhone isn't quite as versatile yet, being only a Twitter app.  I have been told by the Hootsuite people that Facebook integration will be in the next update, and I've asked about LinkedIn but have not received a response yet.  When that finally happens, this may be the killer iPhone Twitter app, though there are other problems with it as well.  Major problems, actually.

Hootsuite also has a very clear interface for you to read your timeline, but it only loads 20 tweets at a time, which is *really* annoying.  It plants you right at the top of your timeline and you have to scroll down.  Even worse, the tweets that were there when you last closed the app are there.  It took a little while of "loading new tweets" before I was able to get to tweets that happened between the two time periods (the last time you logged in and this time).  It eventually happened, though loading only 20 tweets at a time really sucked.

Hootsuite also allows you to track multiple Twitter accounts, and doing so is the same as Twitterific.  You go to the main page and then choose which account you want to see.  Pretty handy.

This main page is also where you can choose to see mentions of you, direct messages, tweets you've sent, and one of the coolest things:  Pending Tweets.

Yes, in Hootsuite, you can schedule your tweets!  Right now, I don't have much (if any) use for this, but it's still a cool concept and it adds to Hootsuite's versatility.

Another thing that Hootsuite has over the other two apps is that when you compose a tweet, you can decide which account you want to post the tweet to (or you can choose all of them).  In the other two apps, you have to be looking at the account that you want to post the tweet from, and you can't choose to post from all of them.

Accessing somebody else's profile has some pluses and minuses compared to the other two apps.  First the good news.  When you're looking at somebody's profile, you can actually check and see what who else has mentioned them.  That's pretty cool.  Unfortunately, Hootsuite doesn't tell you if they're following you or not, which is not quite as helpful.

Hootsuite doesn't allow you to follow conversations (or if it does, I couldn't find out how) like the other two apps do, which is another mild annoyance.

Another bonus to Hootsuite, though again I'm not sure quite how useful it might be yet, is that it gives you stats for any tweets of yours with URLs in them.  These stats give a rating as well as telling you how many times the URL has been clicked.  One thing that's not clear is if the stats are just from your posting or not.  In other words, if you re-tweeted the link, do the stats only count people who clicked on your posted link or does it include anybody on Twitter who has posted that link?  It's hard to say.

As far as re-tweeting itself goes, Hootsuite allows you to RT tweets, but it truncates the tweet if your tweet has more than 140 characters in it.  I don't know if it will shorten the URL if the URL is what gets cut off, but it's mildly annoying.  Especially if what gets truncated is important.  I would much rather have the new RT function as Echofon does it.

Hootsuite makes it easy to cancel a tweet.  You just hit "cancel" and away it goes!  The text doesn't come back next time you try and tweet, like it does in Twitterific.

You also can't "reply to all" in Hootsuite as you can in Echofon, nor can you send a tweet to more than one person without manually entering the username for the accounts after the first one.

Hootsuite does have an URL shortener, which is handy, but it doesn't have the automatic text shortener like Twitterific has. That's not a huge dealbreaker, though.

Regarding searches, as with the other two apps, you can save any searches you make.  Unlike the other two, there is no "nearby tweets" search.  On the plus side, it not only gives you trending topics, but it tells you *why* they are trending topics.  That is pretty cool.

Finally, Hootsuite does not have a landscape keyboard.

After using Hootsuite for a little while, I do have to say that I probably won't be using it as my regular Twitter client.  Once Facebook (and possibly LinkedIn too) integration is done, I may occasionally use it to post tweets, but I doubt I will be using it to read tweets.  It's just not that functional for me, and it's missing some things that I really like.  It has some cool things the other apps don't, but ultimately it's not enough for me.

I'll keep it installed, though, and will probably check it periodically.

4) Conclusion

Another consideration for iPhone users is cost.

Twitterific Lite is free, Pro is $4.99.  However, the only difference I can see is that you don't get any ads in the Pro version

Echofon Lite is free, Pro is $4.99.  For that price, you get the URL shortener (free on Twitterific) and Push Notifications, and no ads.

Hootsuite Lite is free, Pro is $2.99.  For that price, I'm not sure exactly what you get, but it appears to be mostly stuff I don't use.

Thus, for the money (as long as you can stand ads), Twitterific is great.

Ultimately, I'm still debating between Echofon and Twitterific.  Both of them have things I love about them, and both of them address the other's shortcomings.  I re-tweet a *lot*, so it's annoying in Twitterific not to be able to do that as cleanly as I can in Echofon.  However, the lack of an URL shortener in the free version of Echofon is really irritating too.

I may keep switching between the two for a while, with Hootsuite as the occasional back-up.  Basically, your choice will be down to what is or is not a dealbreaker for you.  Both of them are great apps, and well worth using.  Even Hootsuite isn't that bad.

Please let me know if I've missed anything about the apps above.  Also, if you think there is another app that is even better, let me know that too.

Update #1 (3/27/10): Discovered last night that Echofon's "Nearby tweets" thing is actually *very* cool.  It gives you a map of your current location, and then any tweets from places that are on the map.  When you move the map around, it reloads with tweets from the new location where you stopped the map!  Of course, this requires that the tweeters have location turned on, which I do not recommend if you're tweeting at home, as it pretty much tells people exactly where you are.  But it is cool for those who are looking!


  1. I do not do much tweeting from the phone. In fact I do not do much tweeting at all as you noticed. I have HTC phone with PEEP as pre-installed twitter client. Looks good enoughfor me. I guess it suits my needs as of now :)

    But you did hell of a job with this review.

  2. Thanks, Lena! I was worried I had drawn it out too long. Thought it might have run too much, so I really appreciate that.


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