Examining Twitterrific's Flight Plan

Earlier today, the team at The Iconfactory filed a flight plan to its customers regarding the future of their popular Twitter client, Twitterrific. In order to cover an exhaustive amount of detail behind their thoughts for the future, the company split its ideas through the personal blogs of three of its staff, Gedeon Maheux, David Lanham, and Craig Hockenberry.

First, Gedeon’s post discusses the why and how behind the decision and gives the big picture. He focuses mainly on how the team made the mistake in the past to saying “yes” to too many feature requests. This approach led to so much feature creep that the user interface and settings became too difficult for most people to navigate. So when Steve Jobs held up the iPad for the world to see in late January, The Iconfactory decided to put Ollie on a diet and start fresh. The goal: simplify. Only include the absolute necessities for a wonderful Twitter experience. That resulted in Twitterrific for iPad. Iconfactory is beginning to think a lot like Apple, focusing on the 80% of users who just need the essentials, not everything and a bag of chips. 

David’s post then delves into the user interface changes and the decisions behind them. The goal here was to make Twitterrific fast and light, focusing on content and usability, rather than an expansive feature list. The timeline screen has been whittled down from seven buttons to four. My beloved action (looks like an asterisk) button is gone, and those actions have been separated into two main categories: actions that affect the timeline and actions that affect only you.

Settings have been moved from being within the app to Settings.app. And the team threw out many of the settings. Anything that possibly needs to be changed frequently, such as photo/video upload service, are located contextually in the explicit functions button. Judging from the below screen capture Lanham provided of Twitterrific 2’s settings versus Twitterrific 3’s settings, you can see why they started from scratch.

Finally, Craig’s post discusses how the iPad is ushering a new kind of user into a new era of computing. Twitterrific for iPad and the upcoming Twitterrific 3 for iPhone are focusing regular folks, not the Twitter power user. And for regular folks looking to read and write tweets among friends and folks that interest them less interface is more.

Craig boldly states:

“Simplicity is the name of the game in this new world order.” 

Features such as Instapaper support are there, and that particular feature is for a user who knows what Instapaper is. Enabling it is in Settings.app, and if you don’t set it up, you’ll never see anything about Instapaper in the app interface. Initially, I put off by this mentality of putting some settings in Settings.app, but the idea makes sense to me now. Especially since the only settings that end up outside the app are the “set it and forget it” settings. Everything else is in context where it is appropriate, and beyond that the interface altogether gets out of your way. We see this in the iPad now, and once again, you can see where The Iconfactory is following Apple’s footsteps, as Apple’s own apps do the best they can to get out of the way.

My Thoughts

There was a time when Twitterrific 1 for iPhone became stale and lacked features, and that time was with the advent of Tweetie. Then Twitterrific 2 came along chock full o’ features, and I have been happy with that. When the iPad version came out, I found it mildly refreshing not have such a busy interface, but I also noticed two of my favorite features were missing (text compression & marking tweets). But overall, the less is more attitude allows me to just read tweets, and easily compose.

The Iconfactory started from scratch when the iPad was announced, and I think it is paying off. It’s smart to base the iPad, iPhone, & Mac versions off the same code. It makes rolling out new features and fixing bugs easier. It simplifies. This new era of simple isn’t going to be for everyone. I can already tell you many of my iPhone-toting friends will not like this new super-simple Twitterrific for iPhone. Most of them are Twitter power users and already focus on everything-but-the-kitchen-sink apps like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and Tweetie Twitter for iPhone. Those folks will not see the value of simplicity. 

I’ll admit, I love Twitterrific, and have for nearly three years. But I’ll also say I had a moment when initially using Twitterrific for iPad that I sat back and was worried about losing some features in the next major iPhone revision. And guess what — I am. Hopefully some will return with enough user requests. Now, I do have Twitter for iPhone, (and I paid for its previous two incarnations, Tweetie 1 and 2), but that app has always been like trying to drink from a firehose for me, and I consider myself a power user at 20,830 tweets and counting. 

For the past few months I have been trying to simplify many things in my life. I even bought a lovely new simplistic desk to help myself along the way. So I can jibe with what The Iconfactory is trying to achieve, and I welcome it. Simpler is better.

I have confirmed first hand with Gedeon from The Iconfactory that Twitterrific 3 for iPhone is a paid upgrade for premium users. The premium app is going away, and the free version will be upgraded to the new app. Premium features (ad removal and multiple accounts) will be an in-app upgrade. Now, I paid $10 for Twitterrific Premium 1 on day one of the App Store, and I received version 2 for free. Version 2 was also when the price was dropped to $4. It is my understanding the premium feature unlock will remain at $4. 

I’m going to publicly state that I am fine with paying again. These folks produce some of the most beautiful apps on Apple devices. And I am a firm believer that great work should be rewarded. If you like Twitterrific 3, you should pay for it, and that’s my opinion. Future development is best encouraged with dollars. And if the price of a latté is too much for an app for you, well, there is the ad-supported part of Twitterrific, or there are other apps.

Look for Twitterrific 3 for iPhone in a few weeks, and Twitterrific 4 for Mac by June 30, the OAuth deadline for Twitter clients.