Ripe for Domination: The Mac Twitter Client Market

August 17, 2010

I remember my excitement when Tweetie for Mac was released. On the Mac my Twitter client of choice was the website itself. I used Tweetie on the iPhone, but none of the available Mac clients matched my mental model of what a Twitter client should be. Tweetie for iPhone however was a perfect match. So when Tweetie for Mac became available and I saw that it had the same organization and similarly excellent visual treatments as Tweetie for iPhone, I wasted no time in purchasing my license.

Since its release Tweetie for Mac has become the dominant native Mac client, but the product has not aged well. Updates have been rare and largely focused on bug fixes (thankfully there have at least been those). But indications of the future growth of Tweetie for Mac have been even rarer still.

For me personally what has been most aggravating about Tweetie for Mac over time is its unflinching un-Mac-like-ness in the timeline. Have you ever tried to drag a URL from a tweet into Safari? Or use Snow Leopard’s new Services features to process text? Or get the definition of the word the mouse pointer is hovering over using Ctrl-Cmd-D? Tweetie for Mac draws its tweets as custom views and because of this implementation decision the user can’t take advantage of all of these great built-in features of Cocoa’s text system that are found in almost every application in the system – features that are a big part of what make Macs great. Instead, the users rely on the developer emulating these features as he has done (so far) with only text selection and URL-clicking. I appreciate the effort but emulating the correct behavior will forever be playing catch-up with the system controls.

Common keyboard shortcuts such as Fn-Up/Down Arrow (page up, page down) for navigation are missing as well – another conspicuous inconsistency. Perhaps you can see why the fact that Tweetie for Mac won the 2010 Ars Design Award for “Best Mac OS X User Experience” has mystified me.

Hibari 1.0, a new Mac Twitter client, was released today with various high profile links to it. It has a gorgeous website and attractive screenshots. As you can imagine I was excited to take it for a spin. After all, it has some great features: mute (a sort of silent unfollow), keyword block/filtering, individual tweet hiding and in-timeline conversation expansion.

While I am happy to find that Hibari 1.0’s timeline works just as a Mac user would expect with URL dragging, text services, and so forth, what’s puzzling about it is what it doesn’t offer:

  • You can’t use Hibari to follow new people or unfollow the tedious (@HibariApp was kind enough to respond to my question on this, explaining that they didn’t want to make the context menu any larger).
  • Clicking on any @name opens the user’s Twitter page in your web browser, which is very jarring if you’re accustomed to Tweetie for Mac’s ability to view any user’s tweets without switching apps. An unfortunate side effect of this is that you can only use the in-timeline conversation expansion on your own conversations; if you want to jump into another conversation you’re on your own.
  • Most frustrating, Hibari doesn’t hold your position in the scroll view as new tweets appear. Instead it always shows the most recent tweets in your timeline. (Update: @HibariApp informs us that this is on the way.)

Initially I was very put off that these features were missing. After all, it’s Hibari 1.0. Not 0.9, not Beta 3, but one-point-oh. Calling a product “1.0” and accepting money for licenses signals to the customer that the product is Capital R Ready. You probably have a number of features sketched out for subsequent revisions, but you have presumably included all of the features you view as necessary to use the product. We can only assume that Hibari’s developer, Victoria Wang, did not view these features as necessary.

I qualified the sentence above with “Initially” because as I re-surveyed the top Twitter clients for Mac in writing this article, I realized how unique portions of Tweetie for Mac are. Neither Hibari, Twitterific nor Bluebird (1.0 Beta 3) support viewing an arbitrary user’s tweets. None of them support managing your follow/unfollow status, either. They are focused only on viewing the contents of your timeline, your mentions, and your direct messages.

What I find most disappointing about Hibari is that it has made its 1.0 splash demonstrating some great new features, but it lacks features that Tweetie (and other iPhone clients) have made users like me consider standard. Standard to the point that we will continue using Tweetie (despite its significant flaws) and hopefully check in again on Hibari once it reaches 2.0. As much as I would like to see these features in Hibari sooner than later, I would rather they be designed with the same care that seems to have been taken with the rest of the application.

Today the Mac Twitter client market is Tweetie’s to lose. Hibari shows promise with its filtering preferences but set its sights below providing what I would describe as a complete Twitter client. The draw of Tweetie is not just that it provides a pleasant way to keep up-to-date on my Twitter timeline, but that it provides me with the way I like to consume Twitter best, end-to-end. This is the potential power any native Mac client, for any service. Tweetie has shown us what’s possible; its languishment has been and continues to be a talented developer’s golden opportunity.

Update 9/21/2010: Evan Williams has stated: “We have no plans for an [sic] “official” desktop clients,” which doesn’t seem particularly encouraging for Tweetie’s future.