TweetBot? Yeah, It’s Pretty Good, But Not Quite As Slick As Twitter For iPhone… Yet

Yesterday, most of the tech blogs (and, indeed, Twitter itself) came over all giddy at the release of TweetBot, a new, full-featured Twitter client for the iPhone that many pundits are suggesting is the first legitimate challenge to Twitter’s official app, Twitter for iPhone.

Billed as a ‘Twitter client with personality’, TweetBot is certainly nice to look at, and comes with a number of innovative features, but is it really as good as Twitter’s product?

Short answer: not quite, but assuming that they don’t fall foul of Twitter’s wrath, TweetBot could very well be the client of choice in versions to come.

TweetBot’s story is an interesting one. Back in April, 2010, Tapbots, the company behind the app, wrote about their aspirations for the client, which was already 2.5 months in development. The problem? Twitter had just acquired Tweetie, which was very much the leading iPhone client at the time (and far away my favourite), and this had an impact on Tapbots’ business plan.

But this news changes things for us. We probably won’t be able to charge for the app anymore. Who’s going to pay for a Twitter client when “Tweetie” is free? We are a very small team and can make things work. We put 2.5 months of hard work into this app and feel really good about where it’s going. The last thing we want to do is just give up, but we need questions answered before we can continue moving forward.

Fast-forward a year later, and TweetBot is finally available on the app store. Except: it’s not free ($1.99 US, £1.19 UK). Twitter for iPhone is free, and always has been. And given how Twitter’s attitude towards developers has only become more restrictive over this period, can this possibly work out for Tapbots?

Perhaps. The initial fervour surrounding the launch hasn’t done them any harm. And TweetBot certainly looks the part. Clearly, very careful attention has been paid to the design of the product – and why not, as it’s taken over a year to build – which is incredibly pleasing. And, to be honest, not a million miles away from Twitter’s app.

It’s also feature-packed. Multiple timelines, conversations and related tweets, a customisable tab bar and Instapaper support.

All this, plus what Tapbots is calling smart gestures – which includes different functionality for single, double and triple taps, the latter of which is customisable.

So far, so good. But this bot does come with a few coding glitches.

First, it can be pretty slow. I’ve found it prone to lag on pull downs, and moving between screens (from mentions to search, for example) can be less than smooth.

It also feels a little sluggish, and stalls completely on occasion (if only for a fraction of a second) when thumbing up and down between timelines.

The conversation functionality is hit and miss to a point of being pretty useless. I’ve yet to see any actual conversation I’ve had – often with tweets just minutes part – being picked up in full by the app. Most of the time it ranges from including just a couple of tweets to none at all.

Also, much like the official Facebook iPhone client, it looks like crap on the iPad. But as this isn’t an official iPad release, we won’t worry about that right now.

So, while I’m not quite ready to abandon Twitter for iPhone quite yet, these are fairly minor niggles. Certainly this is a lot better than anything else out there except the official Twitter iPhone client – miles better than TweetDeck and HootSuite for iPhone (although I love HootSuite for iPad) – and as this is only version 1.01 (an update to the launch product was released earlier today) it’s an incredibly promising start.

Certainly, if Twitter doesn’t get their act together – and laughably ill-advised ‘features’ like the Dickbar make this far less than a certainty – then it seems a pretty sure bet that TweetBot will be the premier Twitter client for the foreseeable future.

Well, except for a couple of major things. One, Twitter’s app is the official app, so most people are going to gravitate towards that automatically.

And two, Twitter has already demonstrated its new ‘short leash’ policy towards non-official development work on Twitter clients. And while they may be struggling to obtain trademarks on certain words, they’ve made it very clear how they feel about the “confusing or damaging” use of some of these terms in Twitter-related products.

So, here’s the real question: given how pleasing Tapbots’ client is right now and how fantastic it might be in versions 2.0 and above, was using the word ‘Tweet’ in the product name something that’s going to come back to bite them on their shiny metal arse?

(Tweetbot is available now for iPhone from the App Store.)