A 2008–2011 retrospective of Twitter’s flagship iPhone application, with bonus commentary.
Twitter for iPhone 4.0 was released to the general public on Thursday [Dec. 8, 2011] to widely mixed reviews. Some hailed it for its simplicity and others felt betrayed by the app for not sticking to its roots.
What were Twitter for iPhone’s roots? It started with a company called Atebits, run by Loren Brichter.
Released: November 18, 2008 | $2.99
The first version of Tweetie emerged when there was a small field of Twitter clients for the iPhone. The most popular app at the time was Twitterrific. Tweetie set itself apart with a few game-changing features.
Chief among them: endless scrolling to load more tweets. Yes, it seems trivial now, but in the nascent days of application development for the iPhone this feature was killer.
One of the big knocks against Tweetie was its SMS-style interface.
Tweetie 1.1: To tweet a link
Released: December 15, 2008 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions
Tweetie 1.1 added a URL scheme that allowed users to take a URL from Safari and paste it into a Tweet sheet. By adding “tweetie:” at the front of a URL, the application would open with the URL pre-populated. This was especially important, because iOS did not support copy and paste at the time.
Tweetie 1.2: Swipe to reply
Released: February 16, 2009 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions
The killer feature of Tweetie was finally here. No, I’m not talking about PEE. Swipe to reply allowed users to reply directly from the app’s timeline view. When the user swiped, they could visit the profile directly, favorite and reply to the tweet.
The visual design of the app had also gone through a visual overhaul, opting for a dense view.
Tweetie 1.3: Left off the store, then left in the dark
Released: March 10, 2009 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions
Tweetie 1.3 was held up in App Store hell. It was rejected because a trending topic displayed inside the app had featured a curse word. Brichter took to Twitter to complain:
Not long after, Tweetie 1.3 hit the App Store and brought along with it a whole bunch of bug fixes and new features. App users long had clamored for additional themes and Tweetie 1.3 delivered a dark theme.
Tweetie 2: Pull to refresh
Released: October 9, 2009 | Price: $2.99, new and existing users
Just 11 months after Tweetie first hit the App Store, it was time for a rebuilt, completely new version of the app to hit. With that, came a minor backlash from Tweetie 1 buyers. Brichter believed that Tweetie 2.0 was enough of a revamp of the app that it warranted a whole new purchase.
That didn’t stop Tweetie 2.0 from being a stellar app. From my review, regarding the best new feature at the time:
Not only that, but there’s a great new change for reloading your Twitter. No longer do you have to scroll up, click the refresh button and wait for updates. Instead, just scroll up by gesturing down and hold it until you get feedback that it is reloading.
Pull to refresh became one of the most widely adopted metaphors among apps that work with timeline views. My iPhone currently has 15 apps with the feature. Facebook’s iPhone app required users to shake the phone in order to reload the view. Now, like dozens of other apps, it conforms to the UI metaphor Brichter invented.
The app also aggressively used caching, which meant that the app remembered where the user left off, making up for the lack of a dedicated multitasking feature on iOS.
Tweetie 2.1: Project retweet, location-based tweeting, gap detection
Released: November 29, 2009 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions of Tweetie 2
Back in the old days of Twitter, retweet didn’t exist. Well, it existed as a form of syntax inside of a tweet. Now, it’s a feature widely used. Tweetie 2.1 was one of the first iPhone apps that took advantage of the new format.
It also had location support, which let users search nearby tweets. Add on Twitter lists, which had just been introduced to organizes different groups of users.
Remember when Tweetie 1.0 was one of the first to feature endless scrolling? Tweetie 2.1 took it one step further with gap detection. When you reopen the app after quite some time away, Tweetie 2.1 recognized a gap between tweets. By clicking on the gap, it populated the area with the tweets it missed.
Tweetie 2.1.1: Foursquare support
Released: March 12, 2010 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions of Tweetie 2
Tweetie 2.1.1 was a minor update, but it’s worth noting, because it’s the last major feature upgrade. It added Foursquare support, which showed place information when a user posted from Foursquare.
Less than a month later, Twitter announced that it had acquired Atebits’ Tweetie and that Loren Brichter would join the team at Twitter.
Tweetie 2.1.2: The last version
Released: April 28, 2010 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions of Tweetie 2
With Tweetie joining the Twitter flock, there was one last upgrade to do. And it was in the form of a game. It teased the new version of Twitter, which would be made free for all users.
Twitter for iPhone 3.0
Released: May 18, 2010 | Price: Free
Twitter for iPhone continued the impeccable design of Tweetie for iPhone. It reorganized search, added signup options right inside of the app and let users without an account browse Twitter.
What went missing from the app? URL shortening from services like bit.ly. Twitter began using its t.co shortener, instead.
Twitter for iPhone 3.2: Push notifications
Released: November 16, 2010 | Free
Before push notifications made it to Twitter for iPhone, users turned to Boxcar, which was a handy solution for Twitter developers who couldn’t build the infrastructure to support push notifications. Now, however, Twitter itself could support it for notifications about mentions and direct messages.
Twitter for iPhone 3.3: #Quickbar, the #Dickbar
Released: March 3, 2011 | Price: Free
Quickbar. Oh, Quickbar. This “revolutionary” new feature lasted less than a month after it was released. The feature put trends (including promoted trends) at the top of the timeline and annoyed users to no end. It was quickly dubbed the “dickbar” by tech pundits, because of its lack of value to the user. Some upgrades lessened the “impact” of the bar, but by version 3.3.3, it was gone for good.
Twitter for iPhone 3.5: iOS 5, Twitter photo uploads
Released: October 11, 2011 | Price: Free
Twitter for iPhone 3.5 took advantage of Twitter’s deep integration with iOS 5. It could automatically access the user’s Twitter account without having to ask for login credentials, provided the user input them in the Settings app.
It was the last major Twitter for iPhone release Brichter was a part of:
Twitter for iPhone 4: A whole new look
Released: December 8, 2011 | Price: Free
Twitter for iPhone 4.0 is a significant departure from previous versions of Twitter and Tweetie. Some of the design elements remain, particularly the blue indicators for new tweets and the pull-to-refresh feature. Everything else has undergone a significant refresh.
It’s unclear whether development of version 4 is the reason why Brichter left the company, but it has been largely panned in the tech press, while some praise it for its simplicity:
Twitter for iPhone has had a long history and with the iterative nature of the company, it’s doubtful that it will rest on its laurels and be ignorant of user feedback. With Brichter missing, those looking for the Tweetie experience would probably have to go elsewhere.
Post Script — Dec. 10, 2014
Three years after writing this piece for my personal website, I realize now that it’s probably my most widely-read and bookmarked piece of writing. All these years of being on Twitter finally paid off.
Today, Twitter is on version 6.18. Direct messages are back to being a first-class citizen and the app experience is very much geared toward the everyday user. It’s not as “broken” as the furious power-user responses on the release of version 4. Discovery is a finely tuned-experience, in-app notifications are pleasant and search now encompasses the entire history of tweets.
Federico Viticci linked to the original piece in his comprehensive rundown of Twitter apps for iOS. It’s a must-read to learn the current state of affairs with third- and first-party Twitter applications. Viticci argues in favor of a diverse third-party client ecosystem. In the end, he comes to the conclusion that Twitter for iPhone is the best, if flawed, experience on mobile devices.