Twitter’s iPad App Update Provokes a Backlash

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo appeared on NBC’s Today Show Tuesday morning to unveil a new look for profile pages on Twitter’s website and, much more interesting to this reporter, the new “5.0” version of Twitter’s iPad app. Not earthshaking news, in the grand scheme of things; the previous version of the iPad app was designed by Tweetie founder Loren Brichter, who left Twitter nearly a year ago, so it was only a matter of time before the app went through a major refresh.

As the app went live in the iTunes App Store, Twitter boasted that it had “rebuilt the app from the ground up to make it fast, beautiful and easy to use.” And the news provoked the usual rush of media enthusiasm. Today’s website called it a “fresh take” and TechCrunch called the new iPad app “totally gorgeous.” So I was eager to see what Twitter had come up with.

But having played with the new app a bit, I am aghast. Nearly everything that was cool about Brichter’s design has been ripped out, and replaced by a generic timeline that looks as though it were designed for an Android smartphone. The sliding panels that made navigating to tweeted content such a pleasure are gone, replaced by an awkward system in which tweets first “expand” (on the first tap) and then disappear (if you tap again to examine tweeted content in a full-screen in-app browser).

I’d been a chronic, even addicted user of the old Twitter iPad app. And don’t get me wrong—I like the idea of being able to “expand Tweets with a single touch to see beautiful photos, rich videos and web page summaries right in your timeline,” to quote from Twitter product manager Sung Hu Kim’s description of the new app. Unfortunately, the new app does all this in a way that has absolutely none of the flair of Brichter’s design.

What made the old Twitter iPad app great was that you could see both your timeline and the content in tweeted links on the same screen. As Brichter explained today in his own series of tweets, his design goals had been to “1. be able to browse your timeline while waiting on a webpage…2. be able to refer to other content while composing a tweet…3. navigate without having to move your whole arm to the top left of the screen.”

Now that’s all gone. “New Twitter for iPad is AWFUL. A huge step backward. I wish I could un-update,” I quickly tweeted.

I’ve been looking around to see whether I’m alone in my despair, and the answer is no. The new iPad app already has 268 one-star reviews in the iTunes App Store, compared to 144 four-star reviews. “A complete downgrade,” says one reviewer. “You ruined it,” says another. And many of the digerati whose opinions I value are saying roughly the same thing.

Of course, none of this criticism is likely to undo Twitter’s changes—there’s an underlying commercial logic here, as Twitter works to unify the look and feel of its mobile apps and clears the way for more branded messaging as part of users’ timelines. But it seems clear that Twitter underestimated its users’ affection for the previous design, or it wouldn’t have undertaken such a thorough erasure.

Below, for your reading pleasure, I’ve collected a few of the most critical blog quotes, followed by a short Storify collection of tweets.

“They threw away Loren Brichter’s groundbreaking UI and replaced it with a timeline where you can’t tap anything — URLs, usernames, hash tags, images. Instead, you have to tap to ‘open’ the tweet first. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Twitter client in which you couldn’t tap URLs from the timeline.”—John Gruber, Daring Fireball

“Well, it finally happened. Twitter has updated its iPad app to make it look like its iPhone app. It was inevitable this was going to happen, but I’d been holding out hope that somehow the iPad app would slip through the cracks. Alas, it didn’t happen.”—Jay Yarow, Business Insider

“When you load up Twitter’s iPad update for the first time, chances are you’re going to think there’s something wrong. The updated version of the iPad app abandons Twitter’s card-style layout—where tapping on a tweet would make it swipe in from the right side of the screen—for a much more space-filled design. Your navigation is limited to tapping on the four tabs on the side of the screen. The space on the side of the tweets for your profile is uncomfortable, and the overall impression is that the app isn’t resizing properly to fit your tablet’s screen.”—Emily Price, Mashable

“This has to be one of the most regressive updates I have seen to an app in a long time. We went from a UI that made masterful use of the iPad’s larger screen real estate to this…Twitter had one of the BEST apps in the App Store, and its innovative panel UI (as I unofficially call it) was an example of great tablet UI design, which many apps adopted (see Spotify on iPad). That design enabled a certain degree of multitasking within the Twitter app, making it a much more seamless user experience. You could browse tweets while reading a link or watching a video, within the app. This functionality is no longer there.”—Pavan Rajam, Rajam Report

“In the old app, it was largely a ‘tap and swipe’ world. You’d tap to do something, and a new screen would magically appear. When you were done, you’d just swipe that screen away and get back to what you were doing…With the new app, it’s more a ‘tap and close’ world. You tap to do something. You might even have to tap again, making it more a ‘tap, tap and close’ world…With the new app, having to tap a ‘Close’ button (in the top left of the screen) doesn’t feel as elegant or simple…There were times when I wanted to swipe back to something and couldn’t, and if Twitter had found a way to keep this, I think it would have kept a number of critics happy.”—Danny Sullivan, Marketing Land

“The update removes much of what made the app a unique and interesting experience…it’s a bog-standard list of tweets down the middle of the screen — and when you tap on a specific tweet, you no longer get the familiar and functional multi-column view…There’s zero added functionality to be found here, and the app’s previously innovative and unique interface is nowhere to be found…Twitter took nearly everything that was original or innovative about the app and threw it out with the bath water. This app used to be a perfect example of what was useful and unique about the iPad and its bigger screen—but now feels like little more than a blown-up iPhone app.”—Nathan Ingraham, The Verge


Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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2 responses to “Twitter’s iPad App Update Provokes a Backlash”

  1. RigBow says:

    Nopw thats what I am talking abotu dude. WOw.

  2. blunden says:

    I’m not sure why you had to bash Android there in the beginning. He Android app is a bad iOS port. There are great third part twitter apps though.

    Apart from that I agree with you. The old iPad app looked like it was pretty great. Twitter shows once again that just like Facebook, they are not as good as making apps as third party developers.