The app is universal -- it runs on both iPad and iPhone -- but the difference in UI design between the two platforms is remarkable to say the least. The iPhone app seems to be just another iPhone Twitter client, while the iPad code transforms Twitter into something special.
First, the Twitter team has made it possible for anyone to use the app, whether they have a Twitter account or not. The first time the app is launched, you're presented with a list of category buttons from which you can view (but not comment on or respond to) tweets from a variety of sources. I can see this as a wonderful way to hook people on Twitter -- show them the wealth of information and links they can have access to, and then they'll want to start participating.
When the timid user decides that he or she would like to start tweeting, the Twitter for iPad app helps them there as well. There's a Sign Up button right next to the Sign In button on the initial page that users see. If you're a longtime Twitter user, you tap on Sign In, enter your username and password, and let 'er rip. The next thing you see is the name and avatar icon for the account you're currently signed into over on the left side of the iPad display, followed by icons and links (in light gray on a dark gray background) for Timeline, Mentions, Lists, Messages, Profile, and Search.
Tap Timeline, and you instantly have a new pane that appears to the right of the account info. That pane contains a scrolling list of your Twitter timeline from the present to some time back in the past -- how far back you go depends on how many tweets you normally get per hour, as well as how far back you want to scroll. I was able to go back about six hours, which is a lot of tweets. If I want to get some additional information about a specific tweet, I tap on the tweet, and a third pane slides out -- this one containing detailed information about the tweeter, as well as large, easily tapped buttons for replying to the tweet, making a tweet a favorite, re-tweeting, and a button that lets you translate, email, or copy the link to the tweet.
There are more buttons. A reply button next to the info about the tweeter provides a way to make a public reply, send a direct message, block the tweeter, or report them for spam. There's also a good sized unfollow button in case you decide that the tweeter has gone too far... Following biographical and location information, there are buttons for looking at that tweeter's tweets, mentions, and favorites. Once again, the buttons are generously large and easy to tap.
Below this information is a count of how many people the tweeter is following, and how many people follow them. Tapping the Following / Followers buttons slides the tweeter information window to the left, and a list of the people that are followed / following slides into place on the far right of the screen. This sounds complicated and cluttered, yet it is the most clear and straightforward way I've seen in any Twitter client to view the information I want to see. As you "drill down" into information -- in this case who the tweeter follows or is followed by -- the pertinent information dominates the display, while other information conveniently slides out of the way.
If you tap any of the followed or following tweeter names, you get a similar tweeter information page. It's missing the buttons for sharing a tweet, of course, but includes all of the biographical, location, and following / followers information on the previous display. I'm not sure how far you could follow this train of tweeter information, but it's fascinating to continue digging deeper. If at any point you want to get back to the top level, you just swipe the information to the right, page after page, until you're back to square one.
There's another interesting feature on the tweeter page. Below the large Following / Followers buttons is a list of people who are similar to the tweeter. I've found in my use of Twitter for iPad that this is a wonderful way to find new people to follow.
Tapping on any tweet to get the tweeter / reply information turns that tweet a bright blue. You can still scroll the list of tweets; they'll just slide under the selected tweet. If a tweet includes a link, the linked item is opened in a new pane that slides over (but doesn't cover) the list of tweets. The link is also highlighted in bright blue, and there's a button at the bottom of the pane that will open the link in Safari, copy it, or read it later.
Did that last item catch your attention? It should. There's support for Instapaper in Twitter for iPad, so you can send linked items to Instapaper for future offline reference. If you're a fan of TextExpander, there's support for that as well.
There are several ways you can follow tweeted conversations: first, using a two-fingered drag, you can take a peek at the chain of messages. If you just tap on a tweet and it's a response to another tweet, you'll see the chain of messages in a full pane.
A reverse-pinch gesture on any tweet will bring up the tweeter information pane in a smaller form -- to make the information disappear, you just tap elsewhere on the screen. I found this to be a very useful, although initially awkward, way of getting tweeter information without creating another level of panes.
I think that this is where some people have complained about things getting too complicated. If you continue to drill down through tweets, tweeters, and followers, you can have a lot of panes open simultaneously. But the Twitter developers have made it uncluttered by giving you one main pane to view at any one time. When you're done, you can either dig deeper or start swiping the panes out of the way to the right.
Now back to that list of icons and links on the far left of the screen. Mentions and Messages act similarly to the Timeline, which they should since they contain a feed of tweets. The Profile link is handy -- you can edit your twitter profile with a tap on the button.
One of the other major complaints I've heard from other people trying out the official Twitter app is that the text entry field is too small, which is fascinating considering that you're writing tweets here, folks -- 140 characters. What they mean is that if you're getting close to the 140 character limit, the message will scroll up. It works this way in both landscape and portrait mode. It didn't bother me as much as it seems to bother some people, probably because the text is huge and easy to read. Wait until you get to be in your fifties, people -- you'd be surprised how much you'll appreciate large, readable text. The text entry field looks like a notepad, which is an apt metaphor for writing on the iPad.
Also on the text entry field are buttons for attaching photos from your iPad photo library, tweeting your present location, or shrinking URLs.
If you have multiple Twitter accounts, you can add them to the button list on the left side of the display. Tap on the name of another account, and it becomes active. The buttons for the previous account are hidden and become visible for the new account. It's quite logical the way it works.
The settings for the app are rather simple, which I also find to be refreshing. Other than adding or editing accounts, there are two other buttons -- Services and Advanced. Services lets you set up your image service (i.e., Twitpic or a bunch of others), video service (yFrog and more), and read later service (Instapaper or Read It Later). Advanced has buttons for setting image quality (high, medium, low), show hashtags in trends, enabling TextExpander, and turning sound effects on and off. There's also a button for installing a Safari bookmarklet -- tapping it directs you to Safari, where you're given directions on how to set up the bookmarklet. I had no luck getting the bookmarklet to work, but that's probably due to paying more attention to writing this post than trying to troubleshoot a bookmarklet.
Now, to all of those people who are complaining about this app, I want to say one thing -- it's free. If you don't like it and want to continue using your previous Twitter app, nobody's stopping you from doing that. And I'm pretty happy that Twitter has done something different with iPad UI design. I think their design works well, and I'm sure we'll see some changes (both good and bad) as Twitter for iPad evolves in the future.
During the entire time I used this app for the purpose of writing this review, it never crashed, it was never slow, and I never needed to dig around to find out how to do something. Add that to the free price, and I think Twitter has a winner. To developer Loren Brichter and his team (who developed the Tweetie app from which this app has evolved), congratulations on a job well done.