Tweetbot Public Alpha: The Latest Alternate to Twitter for Mac

For a while now, members of the Tapbots team have teased an upcoming release of Tweetbot for Mac by using it to Tweet, leaving the footprint of “via Tweetbot for Mac” all over their timelines. While there was a rumor going around Twitter claiming that the full version of the app would be making its debut today, the developer instead decided to release a free public alpha to let everyone be a part of testing a new robot masterpiece.

I spent a few hours using Tweetbot for Mac version 0.6 today and have jotted down all my thoughts on the new client. Is it worth trying out, or should you stick with the official Twitter app? How many bugs does it have? What’s the difference between it and stable alternatives on the Mac? Find out the answers to these questions and more after the break.

Before reading on, please remember that Tweetbot 0.6 is an alpha release, has its share of bugs, and is not intended for daily use. I’m going to give it some constructive criticism despite that, but this is by no means a full review of the app.

Same Old Experience with a New Look

Browsing and Tweeting.

Browsing and Tweeting.

If you’ve ever used the iOS version of Tweetbot you’ll find nothing new in the basic functionality of this app. It’s the usual Twitter experience that you’d expect from Tapbots, except on a Mac. As an alternative to the official Twitter app, it brings read-it-later support and better uploading services like Droplr and Twitter for pictures (the official app still doesn’t have the latter).

If you have a trackpad or Magic Mouse and enjoy using them to control your Mac, you’re going to love this client because it really speeds things up, allowing you to flick around the interface. (Instead of swiping left or right with one finger over a Tweet, use two fingers as if you’re scrolling.) So far, it’s good, but there is a lot of room for improvement. An example would be that you can get stuck in Conversation view and there’s no keyboard shortcut or gesture to get out. It’d be nice to see some additional actions supported in gestures and not just what the iOS apps have. What about a three-finger scroll to change timelines or accounts?

I think it’s a shame to see that Tweetbot didn’t bring anything more to the table than this. They have a chance to give users something completely different with Tweetbot and they’ve just gone and used the same layout as in the official app. It does have more polish on the user interface, which is always welcomed, but there’s nothing major in the app. As for mute filters, it would be nice if I actually had a use for them; I honestly don’t know anyone who does. What’s the point of muting someone when you could just as easily block or unfollow them?

When you go to a profile, whether it be yours or a friend’s, the interface is a bit confined. Instead of being able to scroll down their timeline and see their Tweets using the whole window to your advantage, it stays restricted to the a little area where their Tweets are. I’m not sure whether this is a bug or feature, but I hope they tend to it in the finished app.

My major problem with using Tweetbot instead of Twitter or Osfoora is that it doesn’t support Notification Center or Growl. I really wish they would have included some sort of notifications for daily use. Growl, for instance, would have been perfect for the job and doesn’t take too long to integrate. Without those, using this as my main client seems unrealistic. There’s also no support for iCloud sync yet since the app isn’t in the Mac App Store. Instead, you can use Tweet Marker, which is just as speedy in keeping Tweets, mentions, and more on all your devices in the same state.

User Interface

It's pretty, but isn't much different than the iOS app.

It’s pretty, but isn’t much different than the iOS app.

Like I said a few paragraphs back, there’s not much of a difference between the iOS version of this client and the Mac one in regards to the layout and user interface. You might as well use the iPad one because it’s actually on a touchscreen device and works as it should. When you take an app that’s meant to run on iPad and bring it to Mac without changing it at least a little in the process, it doesn’t seem so realistic to use. It feels a unnatural in areas and I’d like to see some more keyboard actions in the future just to bring have the desktop experience.

Other than that, the user interface has several choppy spots like the action bar when you hover over a Tweet, the preferences window, and font that’s on Tweets in a user’s profile, but that’s expected in any testing version. The designer could have done a lot better at making sure this part of the app was in agreement with the rest of the user interface. Right now, the buttons are too big and need a drop shadow to look like they actually belong in the app. It’d actually be great if font resizing worked as a universal setting, changing the button sizes as well. Just an idea.

I also wish there were some transition animations when navigating between timelines, like what Twitter’s official app has when you use CMD + ] or [. Right now, this portion of the app feels rushed and literally lurches from one tab to another. It makes things look tarnished and, to say the least, hastily made.

It feels like an iOS app on a Mac and not much more than that -- yet.

It seems as if Tapbots has taken a superb iPhone app and simply brought it to the Mac, yet they actually had to work harder than you'd expect. Instead of simply porting Tweetbot, the developer had to recode it from the ground up. In this alpha release, most of the app seems to be a boring old port that needs a lot of testing. But hey, that's why it's in alpha and not on the Mac App Store.

Issues

Things got a little overlapped here.

Things got a little overlapped here.

As previously stated, Tweetbot 0.6 is an alpha release, so there are bugs and lacking features. I’ve rounded them up for you in a tidy list below.

  • The preferences (gears) button in the bottom right corner does nothing.
  • Scrolling lurches a lot and sometimes causes the app to crash.
  • There really need to be more shortcuts like CMD + D to send someone a direct message when browsing their profile. This makes things much faster than clicking.
  • When scrolling down a timeline, you may get annoyed by the little actions bar following along. I know it’s a helpful feature, but it’s really annoying to have it follow you while scrolling down a timeline.
  • Oh, and did I mention crashing? Yeah, it happens a lot.
  • You can’t modify your profile at all, even though the “Edit” button is there.
  • There’s no way to keep things scrolled to the top constantly, which I use all the time because I don’t like to keep scrolling up just to see what new Tweets are in.
  • Streaming may occasional stop working.
  • CMD + U does nothing. The only way to find users is go to the Search tab, type in their username, and click “Go to User @[username]“.
  • Saved drafts cannot be retrieved, so please refrain from using this feature.
  • Adding location doesn’t work.
  • There’s no CMD + ] or [ shortcuts to change tabs quickly like in Twitter’s app. I found this disappointing, but maybe they'll add it in a future release.
  • A shortcut or gesture to go back to the previous screen when in Conversation view doesn’t exist -- you have to click instead. I suggest using the Details view (two finger swipe to the left) instead since you can get back out by swiping to the right with two fingers.
  • The preferences window keeps resetting its position to underlap OS X's status bar.
  • There’s no way to open links in the background.
  • Timelines may not always let you scroll all the way to the top. (You can see an example of this in the screenshot of @macappstorm's Twitter account above.)

It's An Alpha and Not Much More

Tweetbot will not support OS X 10.7 Lion once 10.8 Mountain Lion has released later this month.

Will you try it out?

Will you try it out?

Tweetbot isn’t the worst Twitter client that I’ve ever used, but there is really no reason for me to use it over Twitter’s official app. The few things that the app has going for it right now are its beautiful design, extra customization (uploading services, font size, and other display options), and support for Readability, Instapaper, Pocket, and other services that allow you to save content for perusing or viewing at a later time. Save for that, there’s nothing particularly exciting about this release and I had higher expectations.

Lastly, one of the biggest problems with any new Twitter clients from a third party is that the API may soon be shut down. There’s no word from Twitter on exactly what they’re planning, but their message has become even more clear lately: they don’t want users to have a third-party experience. Instead, Twitter wants to control the way you use its service. If the API does disappear soon, this app and other third-party clients out there will have no value at all.


Summary

The popular iOS Twitter client Tweetbot has come to the Mac, but in public alpha instead of a full release. It doesn't quite live up to expectations, though it is in alpha.

7
  • Rob S

    Muting is a handy feature for when you like to follow someone but don’t want to be flooded by their updates on a timely event, e.g.: football match or TV program.

    “There’s no way to keep things scrolled to the top constantly, which I use all the time because I don’t like to keep scrolling up just to see what new Tweets are in.”
    – Yes there is and the option is in one of your screenshots, the selection ‘Pin timeline to top when at top’ will keep all new tweets at the top automatically. If you uncheck this then you will get a notification of new tweets but will have to scroll yourself.

    I found the program quite usable, apart from it randomly stopping streaming new tweets. Nothing a program restart didn’t fix though.

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      I actually enabled that option and it still doesn’t work.

      • Rob S

        Ah, well that’s the curse of an Alpha program! Worked for me, although I actually prefer to scroll myself so disabled it.
        Very good review though, thank you.

  • Brad

    I don’t get it, you go out of your way to mention that the program is in alpha (not even a beta yet), and you go ahead and complain about all sorts of things that are to be expected in an alpha and many of which the developers even address in their blog post!

    Even the second-last paragraph. You essentially say:

    “There’s no reason to use this over the official Twitter client, except for:

    - Beautiful design
    - More customization for which upload services to use
    - Better customization over typography
    - Better customization for other display options
    - Support for multiple read later services: Instapaper, Readability, Pocket, Pinboard and more.”

    And that’s not to mention the many more features it has on top of those. Some of the features you brush off, like muting, are actually significant features that simply don’t apply to you. If you brush it off here, you should also brush it off on iOS.

    As for some of the graphical problems (fonts, layout, shadows, window positioning), straight from the blog:

    “Disturbing graphics and performance issues.
    Okay, not disturbing to most of you, but some designers can get pretty disgusted by the slightest mis-aligned pixel. Don’t be alarmed, we plan on making everything as beautiful and pixel perfect as we can. Throwing things on the canvas is just part of our process. And no, the egg icon isn’t the final icon. It was thrown together for alpha/beta purposes. We also spend most of our time optimizing performance towards the end of development.”

    As for Growl:

    “No Notification Center or iCloud support (in the alpha/beta).
    There’s no way we can offer them until the app is signed and goes through the app store. They will work in the shipping product.”

    They also mention that it’s going to -only- support 10.8 when it ships, which makes sense then that they’re only going to rely on Notification Center.

    Truthfully, this is one of the best alphas of a piece of software I’ve ever seen. It’s extremely useable, and yes, more keyboard shortcuts would be nice (and I’m sure they’ll come, Tweetbot has always aimed to please power users), but it’s successfully replaced all other clients on my computer already. I’ll gladly be shelling out for it when it hits the MAS as well.

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      I guess I just need to try out more alphas and not betas. :)

    • http://ipatrix.com Patrix

      Well said. I was kinda confused by this review. This release has much more stuff than any alpha usually does. The Muting comment is strange too since many people I know use it for exactly the reason cited in the first comment.

      The Tweetmarker feature is a big one for me since I access Twitter on my Mac, iPhone, and iPad and hate to keep reading tweets again when I switch. Twitterific for Mac had Tweetmarker but differed wildly on other features so its always great to have one app across all devices.

    • Dilbert Asended

      +1

    • Brian

      Another app that will leave older Apple computer users behind. I can’t upgrade beyond Lion with my 6 year old iMac. It’s too bad that developers can’t implement graceful degradation for users that won’t or can’t upgrade to the latest and greatest.

  • Jeremy

    I love it already. As an alpha, it’s already my favorite Twitter app for Mac. The only “bug” i see so far is that the preferences button in the bottom right doesn’t work. I’ve had zero crashes with it. Can’t wait to see the full version when it’s finished. Going to be amazing.

  • Paul

    I’m with (just about) everybody else that this is pretty darn good for an Alpha version. It obviously still has some rough edges but does work well enough to be my default Twitter client (I was using Twitteriffic). I do hope they add a Tweet Marker banner to the timeline so you can visually keep track of where you left off (like in the iPad version). I’d also like to see a dock icon unread badge counter. There’s other things but those two would make the biggest difference to me. Still quite usable though.

    I also have to agree of the strangeness of this article. Tapbots has been completely open and forthcoming about this being an Alpha version, what’s missing and why, and why they chose to do it this way. Most of the criticisms in this article completely ignore all of this information which is freely available and widely documented. Maybe do a little more research next time? :-)

    Hopefully Twitter doesn’t kill 3rd party Twitter clients because then this would be all for nothing.

    • Jeremy

      Tweet Marker doesn’t seem to work for me. I use Tweetbot on my iPhone and it seems to work, but not for Mac. Is it just me or is it not implemented into it yet?

      • Paul

        It’s there. Works for me. I’m sure they’ll iron out the kinks before this reaches 1.0 release candidate status.

      • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

        Really? Maybe try uninstalling and reinstalling or something. It worked fine on my first try.

  • Michael Solis

    I’ve tried out a ton of Alphas and Betas in my day, and I can say that without equivocation that Tweetbot is by far the most stable Alpha I’ve ever used. In my mind, it’s more of a beta. That being said, it has some serious and glaring bugs, but that’s to be expected. I’ve forced it to crash about 5 or 6 times in order to find out what would make it do so. I’ve been sending the developers the logs from Console and I suggest you all do the same. It helps them out as it details issues with the app.

    As I’ve said, this is a pretty awesome app for being an alpha. I can’t imagine how good it’ll be when it reaches beta and heaven help us when it reaches its final form.

    I applaud Tapbots for doing this. I never would have thought that they would offer a free public alpha for us to use. I think it was a stroke of genius on their part. In the coming weeks and months I believe that Tweetbot will get better and better to the point that it is just as stable if not more so then the stock Twitter app. I cannot wait to give them my money so I can have a pristine copy of this app in its final form.

    There are a couple additions that I would like to see in the final version such as:

    - Twtmore integration: the iPhone app has this ability but it has been skipped on both the iPad and Mac. I hope to see it in the next few iterations of Tweetbot for Mac.

    - Dual Read Later Use: I use Pinboard on a daily basis and neither I nor the creator of Pinboard view it as a Read Later service like Pocket or Instapaper. It would be great if the folks at Tapbots gave users the ability to use both services at the same time without having to manually switch between them.

    All in all, Tweetbot is a great start, I cannot wait to see what they do next.

  • Matt Boblett

    The one thing that bugs me the most is purely visual: The thickness of the top bar and the side bar. The top bar, in particular, is so thick that it doesn’t match anything else on the Mac. It really stands out on a screen amid other windowed apps. Likewise, the sidebar has not just the icons, but extra space on either side of them that’s empty, placing the icons inside a frame of sorts. Just eliminate the extra space and slim it down! Otherwise? Fine app.

  • http://notchtheguru.com Notch

    I’ve been using this beta for about 36 hours so far, and what is really bothering me is how this is exactly the same as the iPad app. The feature set is still intact. But since there is more screen real estate on the desktop I think the app should be redesigned with that in mind. Alot of the touch gestured should be removed or re-written. Some buttons (like the delete button) should be easy to access on the desktop. I don’t want to have to barrel through menus in order to find buttons I want.

  • Dennis

    I’ll stick with Twitterific for the time being. Both gorgeous and functional.

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