Riposte for App.net

If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ve probably heard me wax poetic about App.net. For those unaware, it’s a pretty new social networking service, similar in many ways to Twitter, but so very different in others. If you’re one of those people that are only now hearing about it for the first time, this review is not for you.

App.net is a burgeoning service and an interesting one that I’ve been keeping my eye on. Since August 2012, I have been a happily paying user — yes you heard me right, I actually pay for it. In so many ways the past six months have very much felt like the zeitgeist of Twitter back in its heyday — circa 2008. Barely being an infant, App.net now has a very robust API. The API has fostered an explosive burst of development, and innovation by the third-party developers who have chosen to build products on it. Nary a year into its life as service, users on both iOS and Android now have an abundant choice of robust mobile App.net clients to choose from. Some of these apps bring all or most of the core functionality you would expect from the service, such as being able to read, interact, and post to your timeline. All of these apps range from very polished and full featured, to quirky and basic.

I have purchased almost every app that has been released to the App Store. I have extensively tested them and up until earlier today, Tapbot’s Netbot has been unable to be dethroned by the competition. For my needs, there are a couple of features that are exceedingly crucial, but only one that is a requirement — what I’m referring to is multi account support. Since App.net is a paid service, I’m more than likely in the minority of people who have paid for more than one account. This being said, it does not negate my need for apps to support this feature. Without being able to read and post to the other accounts I own, your app is useless to me.

As I stated in the opening paragraph of this article, if you have been around here for a while, you have heard me discuss App.net before. You probably also realize I don’t make a habit of reviewing products very often. The intent of this weblog is to provide a reasonable venue where I can spill my thoughts on how technology intersects with culture, as well as design. Every once in a while, a product piques my interest enough where I actually feel the need to discuss it at length. What I’m about to discuss is one of those products, and it’s an absolutely stellar one to boot.

Initial Presentation

Riposte is an incredibly capable and well designed iOS app. It has a ton of spit and polish, and my initial thirty second impression was that this app was designed with care. Extreme care. From the moment I launched the app for the first time, I was greeted with a login screen. It seems rather ho-hum to even mention a login screen, but there’s something uniquely different about it from any other App.net client that I’ve tried. If you have 1Password installed on your iOS device, it will present you with a 1Password button on the login screen. Tapping on this will launch 1Password. This is unbelievably useful and surprisingly delightful to experience the first time. After 1Password launched, I was able to quickly copy my account password and switch back to Riposte to paste it in.

Navigation And Actions

When you authenticate your login credentials successfully, you will see your timeline, however there’s something immediately different about it. The typical tab controller bar you would see in an app of this type is missing. In fact, none of the typical menu bar controls are visible. That’s right, the app runs in full-screen mode by default. You might be thinking that this would be a user experience disaster on first launch — you would be wrong. Initially my brain wanted to scream saying that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. I expected some sort of UI walkthrough, as many apps that do this kind of thing offer. The walkthrough never came. I decided to try my old faithful test of trying to navigate and perform typical actions with one hand. I was pleasantly surprised that everything came natural to me. There are gestures in this app, but not crazy unnatural ones that would need an overly complicated walkthrough to assist the user.

In the main timeline, you perform certain actions like replying, reposting, and starring a post. I expect these actions to be readily available since I’m constantly using them. To perform one or more of these actions, you can just tap on an individual post to bring up those options. Additionally, you can perform more advanced actions like sending a link to a read later service of your choosing (configured in account settings), or view the details, reposts, and stars from other people. If you have ever used the official Twitter app on iOS, this will be very familiar to you. Swiping to the left on a post will take you to conversation mode, whilst swiping right will take you back to the main timeline.

The bottom right corner has a very familiar, but slightly translucent, compose button. It’s a subtly rounded off square with a pencil icon in it. The iconography is very clear that tapping it will reveal the post composition area. To post a message, you get username autocomplete, take or import an existing photo, and a post to Buffer option. The option to post to Buffer will send your message to their service so that it can be scheduled to be sent at a later date. Having first class integration and support for Buffer is fantastic. As an aside, Buffer is a wonderful service that lets you schedule messages to be sent out at certain intervals to popular social networking services of your choice.

Settings, Options, And Polish

Still with one hand, swiping from the left edge of the display towards the right naturally reveals the guts of the app. Here you can delve further into settings, add another account (yay!), view your timeline, mentions, interactions, global stream, profile, and user search. I was really happy to see that the developers managed to implement interactions in the initial 1.0 release. Interactions work identically to how they work on Twitter. You are able to see who reposted, starred, and replied to a post. This is very handy, although I tend to live in my timeline almost one hundred percent of the time. Speaking of timeline, by default Riposte has a unified timeline. The unified timeline combines both new posts, reposts, as well as replies from other users. No more do you need to visit another area just to see who replied to you. I’ll point out now that if you hate how the unified timeline works, you can go into settings and turn it off for a more traditional configuration.

Riposte’s settings are simple enough, yet they expose important choices to the user that you may want. Those options include: font size, display name, directed posts, full-screen, as well as a few other non typical choices. The app features a dark mode (lovely) as well as an option called “Hide Hop-Ons.” This allows you to hide replies form users who haven’t been mentioned by the main participants in a conversation. This makes it much easier to read lengthy conversation threads. It’s intelligent too, since it won’t affect conversations that have fewer than ten posts. Push notifications are available for mentions, reposts, stars, and follows as well — it’s kind of an all or nothing approach though. There’s an option to link your Buffer account for those who want to schedule and stagger posts. Lastly, there’s a pixel art option. The pixel art feature is a treat for Riposte users. Turning this on enhances your profile and cover image when being viewed. I’ve been told this really should only be used for actual pixel art. It uses nearest-neighbor scaling to preserve the sharp square edges of pixel art (if your profile image has them). With rounded edges, it will make your image look worse, so turn it off if it looks wrong to you.

Once you get out of general settings, you can explore further options on a per account basis. As you come to expect, you get a good selection of image hosting and read later services. Image hosting is served by Riposte’s own home brewed service, as well as popular alternatives such as Img.ly and CloudApp. Since I had no experience with the native image hosting service, I decided to give it a try. When you click on an image link in a post, instead of opening up a standard looking Safari web view, it opens a highly customized one. The bottom tab bar is adorned by back and forward navigation buttons, refresh, as well as a mobile optimizer and sharing menu. Tapping on the share menu brings up different options, depending on what third party services or apps you have installed. For me, I have Mail, Message, Facebook, Copy, Instapaper, Safari, Post URL, and 1Password. The fact that it added options for Instapaper and 1Password are a particularly nice touch on the developers part (details matter).

One of the annoyances I have discovered since the introduction of Notification Center in iOS 6, is the fact that most apps that utilize it fail to clear them from Notification Center when tapped on. For example, you may receive a push notification from an app. When you tap on that, you would expect the app to open and take you directly to the app. In the case of an App.net client, if I receive a reply and swipe on the notification, I expect to be taken directly to that response in the app, as well as that notification to be removed from Notification Center. Sadly, the current state of many iOS apps that offer push notifications don’t actually do this. I have yet to try an app that does — until now. I’m simply ecstatic to report that Riposte does in fact remove notifications from Notification Center when they are tapped on. There’s no need to go back and try and hit the ridiculously minuscule ‘Clear’ button to get rid of notifications that you’ve already seen.

The golden rule to which all iOS apps should adhere to, is smooth list scrolling performance. Some apps such as Netbot have historically been graphically intensive, and have been known to not be as smooth as they should be (admittedly, this has improved quite a lot recently). Riposte’s list scrolling performance was buttery smooth during my tests. I should preface that I am testing on an iPhone 5, which has the latest A6 processor. I don’t know how well the apps performance scales down to older devices, so your performance may vary depending on your hardware.

Wishlist

There has been so many favourable things to say about Riposte. It’s by far my favourite App.net client on iOS. It’s replaced Netbot on my primary home screen, and I have deleted all other clients that I have been testing lately. Of course, as this is a 1.0 release, one core feature is missing — private messages. The messaging API is quite new, and as of this article’s publication date, Riposte does not support it. I’m confident it will be added in no time though.

There are minor niggles that I have that are worth noting, and others that should be considered features that shouldn’t deter an individual from trying such a fantastic piece of software. To be forthright with you, my opinion is coloured as a long time Netbot/Tweetbot user (they may support different services, but they are practically identical in terms of functionality). Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to features and nuances in Netbot which make it difficult for me to adjust to other apps. I decided to list some of the missing features and minor grievances that I would love to see in a future update.

  • There’s no draft support for new posts. When cancelling a post, I was hoping I would be asked to save my post for later editing.
  • I’m not entirely crazy about the icons and colour choices of those that live in the apps side bar and settings area.
  • I would love to see integration with Camera + (my favourite third party camera app).
  • When tapping on the camera icon, you’re only presented with two options: snap a new photo or upload an existing one from your camera. As a Netbot user, I’ve been spoiled by the upload last taken photo option. Sometimes I just want to upload the last taken screenshot sitting in my camera roll.
  • Automatic conversion of straight quotes to curly (typographers) quotes.
  • Ability to create Markdown style links (annotation style).
  • Oddly enough, there’s no way to quickly select which account you want to post from. When composing a new post, I’m used to how Netbot handles this. I found myself attempting to tap the top area, hoping an account selection screen would appear.
  • I’m not a big fan of showing unread counts in apps like this. I don’t like treating news or social services as email. In the timeline, it shows you how many new posts are waiting to be read, although this disappears as you scroll the list. Personally, I would prefer using colour to indicate new content is available in your stream.
  • I would love to be able to long-press on the repost button and have an option on which account I want to repost from. This is a feature I’ve come to very much enjoy in Netbot. It may seem like an odd request by some, but it’s handy when you aren’t following a particular user and want this choice.
  • The notification sounds, whilst not as piercing as Netbot, are a bit jarring and harsh sounding. I have seen many developers try to do custom notification sounds, and I’ve yet to come across any that have sounded great. I honestly think I prefer the standard iOS SMS sound effect.
    There’s no option to mute keywords, hash tags, or users. Once again, this is Riposte’s first release, so there’s plenty of room to grow.
  • When at the very top of my timeline, I would prefer if the app scrolled the stream when at that position. Yet again, another thing I loved about Netbot.

Some of the items I’ve listed can rightly be argued that they are the developers own design decisions. Intentional and well meaning, yet from the users point of view — in this case me — I consider them as detractors. You can’t please everyone though, so I won’t take too many points away just because a few items that I’m used to in another app are missing in Riposte.

Coda

I realize that what one considers “the best” is entirely subjective. You and I may have entirely different requirements or varying degrees of acceptable standards. For my needs, Riposte is unequivocally the best App.net client I have ever used. Yes, it’s missing some features that were in Netbot that I do have a special fondness for, but the initial presentation and experience, and overall feel, just won me over. The way you interact with the timeline and the quick way you perform typical actions is just sublime — it’s actually faster than Netbot in more ways than one too. Hopefully you have taken something away from this and can make a decision on your own whether or not it’s worth your time and precious dollars.

Riposte is currently free in the App Store (with in-app purchase). I also recommend following the @riposte account so you can stay in touch and get updates on future developments. As I stare out the window on a dreary, dank, and dirty winters night, I reminisce about how enjoyable this short period of time has been on App.net. We have seen the service barely begin to blossom, and what developers have built in such a short period of time is staggering and just the beginning. The next twelve months will see major updates to App.net’s APIs — further empowering people to create beautiful new and interesting apps on the backbone of an already incredible service. I simply can’t wait to see what’s in store and where we end up.

Published by Alex Knight

Alex Knight is a broadcaster, podcaster, and audio engineer. In addition to over 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector and media landscape, he holds a diploma from BCIT’s Radio Arts & Entertainment program and numerous certifications from the UBC Sauder School of Business in project management and general management. He’s been working on building a podcast network media company more recently and has done Voice-over engineering, mixing, and mastering sessions at On The Mic Training in Vancouver.