If you own an iPhone, chances are you have at least one Twitter client on it. And while everyday seems to bring new ones into the App Store, at the end of the day, Tweetie always seems to be the one that I go back to. TwitterFon, Twitterriffic and most recently, TweetDeck, all are worthy challengers, but I find each of them lacking in some regard. Usually, it’s either speed or simplicity. Tweetie seems to be a perfect combination of the two. But a new app, Birdfeed, may be a little more perfect.
When you first boot it up, you may think Birdfeed looks a little sparse. But there’s a lot behind this simple design, it’s just tucked away, so as not to clutter the main experience, as so many apps do. The main Birdfeed screen consists of your Twitter timeline, a button to load newer tweets, a button to compose a tweet, and a button to your account — that’s it. Clicking on any tweet in your timeline will load it on its own screen and from there you can easily see that person’s profile, reply to that tweet, favorite it or forward it (retweet it, post a link to it, or mail a link to it).
But it’s the button that takes you back to your account that leads you to all of the tools you’re accustomed to on many Twitter clients. There’s a “Mentions” area, a “Direct Messages” area, and a “Favorites” area. You can also view your profile, your tweets, perform a search, or jump to a specific user. On a user’s profile page within Birdfeed, there are also some cool tools. At the bottom, you’ll find a “Services” button. Clicking on that pops up a menu which allows you to automatically scan that user using DoesFollow (a service that tells you if a user is following you on Twitter), Follow Cost (which tells you how annoying a user is to follow based on number of tweets), Favrd (which tracks interesting things on Twitter), and Twitter.com (to show you their actual profile on Twitter).
Another couple nice features that Birdfeed highlights is the threading of direct messages in a way that looks like the SMS (and one day, MMS) messages area on the iPhone. And the app bookmarks where you last updated your Twitter timeline, so that when you load the app again, you don’t have to scroll through past tweets to remember what you haven’t seen. And yes, there is multiple account support.
Birdfeed has really whittled down its Twitter client to just the essentials. But it does so in a way that makes perfect sense. As the developers put it on their site, “We’re as proud of the things we left out as we are of the things we put in.” As someone who is a huge fan of keeping things simple, I wholly approve that message. But as great as the simplistic look of Birdfeed may be, it’s the speed that is arguably even better.
Whereas an app like Twitterriffic can often take in excess of 10 seconds to load up with you tweets, Tweetie typically takes about 3 seconds. But I’ve found Birdfeed is able to boot up and load new tweets in about one second. The reason for this is that the app does local caching. And not only does this allow it to load faster, it also allows you to view tweets even when you’re not connected to the Internet. I just put my iPhone in Airplane Mode and web back through over several hours worth of tweets, seamlessly.
So, are there any downsides to Birdfeed? Yes. The biggest one for many users will be its price: $4.99. While many users opt for clients that are free (TwitterFon’s free version is a nice option), Tweetie sets its price at $2.99. But System of Touch (yes, from the Tears For Fears song), the team behind Birdfeed that consists of Buzz Andersen and Neven Mrgan, have plenty of experience developing for the desktop side of things, and consider a Twitter iPhone client much more of a challenge than a desktop version. As such, they note in a blog post that, “because we put a lot of sweat into producing a polished, Apple-caliber application, we feel Birdfeed is worth $4.99.” Fair enough.
Another downside is that the all-important “Mentions” or “@replies” are not just one-click away on Birdfeed like they are on Tweetie. Instead, they are two clicks away (back to the main screen, and then into Mentions). But, Birdfeed features an indicator (next to your name on the button to go to the main screen) to let you know if there is a new mention or direct message for you to view.
Another feature I’m not thrilled with is that it uses chat bubbles as the default view for the timeline. While I think these bubbles are fine for Direct Messages, they take up too much space in the main screen, where I prefer to see as many tweets as possible without having to scroll. Tweetie gives you an option to have a straight-forward block-style look, Birdfeed does not.
Birdfeed has only been available for one day, so it’s too early to declare it the new de-facto iPhone Twitter client. But I will say that it’s closer than any other app has ever been to dethroning Tweetie, in my mind. It’s so good that I’ve already moved it onto my first page of apps on the iPhone, just to make sure it gets a fair shake against Tweetie. We’ll see what I’m still using in a week, but I suspect is may just be Birdfeed.
You can find Birdfeed in the App Store for $4.99 here.