portrait picture


balancing software engineering & infosec

Fenix for Twitter

posted on April 26, 2020, 6:08 p.m. in review, ios, ipados

I have a love hate relationship with Twitter. I like the concept, but I have a certain disliking of how the platform evolved. One thing that makes Twitter usable for me - and likely one of the reasons why I am still actively using it - is the option to use a third party client. The best feature of all third party clients? Tweets ordered by time, not by some broken algorithm. More recently Fenix seems to gain a lot traction and press, so I took a few days to check it out.

In case you never used a third party client a few things upfront: Twitter put some technical limitations in place and you will not be able to use all features, like polls and moments. Practically I never really cared. I have an experience without every second tweet being sponsored and I can properly mute keywords and people.

So far I have been a Tweetbot user and really happy. Push for messages and DM works, but you do not get any notification if people retweet or favorite a tweet of yours. Can you imagine a world without instant notification that you gained arbitrary Internet points? It is quiet. I like it. I use a few lists to separate people I want to follow but sometimes fall into a rage-like state throwing 90 tweets about a broken graphic cards fan in my timeline - sorry, but I won‘t read this in the morning when I try to catch up with what‘s going on. I also have a separate list for esports to avoid spoilers on game days - really handy, especially since Overwatch League casters (and players) are the most spoiler happy people I have ever seen.

After putting Fenix on my iPhone and iPad and logging in I had to force quit the app for it to actually load my timeline. Well, things like this can happen, whatever. I started out on the iPhone and a few things immediately felt right.

The design is clean and modern. The default font and color choices are nice but Fenix gives you some option to customize it to your liking. The app just feels optimized by someone using Twitter a lot or has a good understanding of user interface design. I do not want to give Tweetbot a too hard time when it comes to the UI, but there are simply a few things that feel outdated or not well thought out.

The button to send a tweet for example is at the bottom right for example instead on the top right minimizing the travel of your finger quite a bit and making it possible for people with smaller hands to send a tweet one handed.

Swiping right you can reply to a tweet or swiping a bit further you can quote the tweet. Swiping left you can favorite, retweet or bookmark. Yes, you can bookmark tweets. I love this feature. I often want to keep one or two tweets to follow up on later and I either have to dig through my favs or open them in Safari and add them to my read it later list.

There are a few significant differences which you will notice quickly. There are no push notifications. There is no background refresh. You open the app and you pull to refresh. That‘s it. You start reading tweets. The same goes for notifications. You go to the tab to check if there are any. If you like to pretend missing features are a stone in the road to minimalist nirvana you will love this app.

Lists are basically implement the worst possible way on both platforms. You read that right, the developer actually ships different UI concepts based on the screen size. Something I wish more apps would do.

Both on the iPhone and iPad you have multiple columns you can swipe through horizontally. This is a super nice concept for the iPad to keep your eyes on multiple things - the last time I used a client that supported this feature that nicely was before Tweetdeck was bought by Twitter. The iPhone displays one column at a time. The problem is the only way to access a list is making it a column on the iPad. If you have many lists this will not be great interaction model. On the iPhone you also have a modal window. To consume content. This is just bad and somehow feels even worse than columns. It is like the client is telling you: „Here is the list. Do not get too comfortable here, it is not what you want to focus on“.

Talking about the iPad app I have to vent a bit about the status bar. It is not a solid color and the separator line for the side menu and the left most column goes all the way up - through the date and time. Somehow this is more distracting that I ever imagined.

There is also an Android version of the app, but sadly no macOS one. While I do not often use Twitter on my Mac I like the fact that Tweetbot exists and keeps my timeline in sync. The iPad app feels well enough designed to use Catalyst and bring it to the desktop. The multi column concept should work pretty well on larger screens.

Talking about sync: totally broken. Neither the read status of my timeline nor my bookmarks are synchronized. This is actually the dealbreaker for me. I often switch between my phone and my tablet and I surely will not try to manually figure out where I stopped reading.

Fenix is still relatively young compared to other clients like Tweetbot or Twitterrific, but it shows a lot of potential and is actively being developed. If you are only using one device the broken sync will likely not bother you much and if the third party client limitations of Twitter are something you can live with I think Fenix should be the first one to check out when you are looking for a solid client improving the Twitter user experience tremendously. Secretly I hope this will give our friends at Tapbots a bit more heat to step up their game UI / UX game. It has been long enough, it is time for a paid upgrade to Tweetbot 6.