March 19, 2014 at 11:33 PM by Dr. Drang
I bought the Mac version of Tweetbot today, and I’m not sure what I think of it. I had it running on the iMac at the office and hated it, but now I’m running it on my MacBook Air and it seems fine. I think I understand why, but it isn’t going to make it easier to decide whether to keep using it.
Let me start by saying I love Tweetbot on my iPhone, and that’s why I was willing to give the Mac version a try, even though I knew from the screenshots that there were aspects of its design I probably wouldn’t be happy with.
Before installing Tweetbot, my biggest concern was with the toolbar or tab bar along the left edge of its window. A big dark bar that’s largely empty seems like a waste to me. In the screenshot, I have more buttons showing than I really think is necessary, simply because turning them off (which you can do via thesubmenu) leaves more empty space. You can get rid of the toolbar temporarily by opening a new Tweetbot window (which won’t have a toolbar) and closing the original, but the next time you switch views—from the Timeline to Mentions, for example—a new window with a toolbar will appear. Despite having both menu items and keyboard shortcuts for changing views, Tweetbot insists on showing you a toolbar.
There’s more wasted space along the bottom. Another mostly empty dark bar that holds nothing but the gear icon, a target for a popup menu.
(To Tweetbot’s credit, it saves some space by putting the list and new tweet buttons in the title bar.)
The choices for font and font size are unnecessarily limited. There’s no font choice at all, and the sizes are Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, and Huge. What’s the point of having a computer full of fonts if I can’t use them?
On the iMac, I’ve been switching between Large, which isn’t quite large enough, and Huge, which is too much so. On the MacBook Air, where my eyes are closer to the screen, Large works well.
Overall, Tweetbot’s preferences are thin. There are no themes, not even a light and dark. Even Apple, the king of “we know what’s best,” gives you the freedom to choose any font, font size, and color in Messages.
An app that’s all about text should give the user a better opportunity to make the reading experience comfortable.
There are some other oddities. Tweeted photos are actually shown smaller on the Mac than they are on the iPhone, although large inline photos are a recent development on the iPhone. The “Retweeted by” notation is bold and dark, a strange choice for metadata; the iOS version uses light gray to avoid intruding on the tweet text.
Magically, an updated Tweetbot, 1.5, appears in the Mac App Store the day after I complain. It has an option for showing large inline images like the iOS version, but I everything else about the display looks the same.
What bothered me the most, though, was Tweetbot’s decision to set itself apart from other apps by putting a dark border around three sides of its window. This is OK in a graphics app, where you make the windows large (if not full-screen) and work in them for long periods of time; but it’s distracting in an app with a little window that sits off in the corner of your screen, usually in the background. It just doesn’t fit in with everything around it.
This is the biggest difference between an iOS app and a Mac app. In iOS, every app gets the whole screen to itself—it’s a solo player. But on the Mac, apps are part of an ensemble and should coordinate with the group. Tweetbot doesn’t. It keeps playing lead when it’s supposed to be harmonizing in the background.
So why is Tweetbot more acceptable to me on the MacBook Air than on the iMac? The biggest reason, I think, is ambient lighting. Tweetbot’s thick dark borders stand out more in the bright office environment where I use my iMac than in the cozy reading corner at home where I use my MacBook Air.
I’m giving Tweetbot a few more days before deciding whether to stick with it. What I find jarring about the borders today may be no big deal a week from now. I’m less optimistic about the font size—I’m used to having complete control—but we’ll see.