Welcome to 9to5Mac’s Smackdown series, where we compare the top hardware and software accessories for your Apple products.
App.net (or “ADN,” as many users have come to call it) was launched last year as an alternative to other microblogging platforms that had become more hostile to developers in recent months. The idea wasn’t so much about ripping off Twitter as it was about giving developers a friendly place to build cool apps and services. Rather than being funded by venture capitalists or advertisments, ADN was funded solely by the people using the platform. Users and app developers paid a yearly fee to get into the network or build on its API.
In the time since it was opened to the public, ADN has lowered their annual fee, introduced feature-limited, invitation-only free accounts, a cloud storage service, and more. Thanks to the developer-friendly atmosphere, many amazing iPhone clients have been released. In today’s smackdown, we’re going to put three of the most popular, fully-featured apps head-to-head to determine which one is the best.
If you want to give these apps a try, you’ll need either a free or paid ADN account. The free accounts are only available by invitation, but lucky for you we happen to have 400 invitations to hand out. Want to claim one? Just click this link and sign up. Once you get there, be sure to follow us.
Note: As usual, let me give you an idea of what you’ll find below before we get started. Each app is given its own dedicated section in this article. Each section starts with at-a-glance information about each app to answer some of the most important questions you may have. Below that, you’ll find my impressions of the app during my time using it. Each section concludes with a slideshow of screenshots from the app.
Unless otherwise noted, each app listed below is not a universal app. Universal apps are compatible with the iPhone and iPad, while non-universal apps are only compatible with the iPhone.
For the sake of those who haven’t used ADN before, I’ll define a few terms before continuing.
The “Stream Marker” that I refer to below is part of the ADN service that allows your timeline to stay in the same position across multiple apps. Because this is a feature of App.net, any client can support it (if the developers choose to), meaning they will all sync mostly problem-free. This is different from how it works on Twitter, where your timeline position is only kept in sync by apps like Tweetbot, which cannot sync to any other apps.
The “Global Feed” is a single stream of every post on ADN. Many users like to jump into the Global Feed to find new people with similar interests, or just to see what’s going on with everyone they don’t follow.
The “Unified Stream” refers to the option to have your mentions and regular posts all in the same timeline, just like the similar setting in Twitterrific 5. This is option and not all clients support it.
“Profile Editing” refers to the ability to update your profile photo, cover image, bio, username, and full name from within the app.
For those coming from Twitter, here are a few parallel terms you’ll want to know on ADN: a “post” on ADN is like a tweet, a “repost” is basically a retweet, and a “star” is equivalent to a favorite.
The Basics Push Notifications: Yes Multiple accounts: Yes Stream Marker: Yes Global Feed: Yes Unified Stream: Yes Private Messages: Yes Profile Editing: No
The Breakdown Netbot, from the creators of Tweetbot, was the first major ADN client to hit the App Store. When it came out, there was a flood of new users on the service. After the price of the app was dropped and it became free, there was another similar influx of new users. To this day Netbot remains one of the most popular apps among regular ADN posters.
As you might expect, Netbot looks and functions just like its Twitter-compatible counterpart, aisde from a few aesthetic changes that were made in a recent Tweetbot update. The Unified Stream is optional, but turning it on can make things a bit annoying. When using the Unified Stream, you have the option of reading your mentions in-line with other posts in your feed, but when you scroll past them in the main timeline they are left marked as new in the mentions timeline. That means that even if you’ve already read the mentions, you’ll have to go to the mentions tab anyway to get rid of the glowing blue light underneath it.
The Global Stream is hidden on the search page, which seems like an odd place for it, but this isn’t the only app to put it there.
Of course, all of Tweetbot’s gestures and buttons are in the exact same places in Tweetbot. Tap on a post to get the actions bar, swipe to the left to get to the post’s detail view, swipe right to view a conversation thread (which seems redundant since this can also be found on the detail view), and triple-tap on a post to carry out a customizable action.
Also making the jump from Twitter to ADN is the comprehensive regex-powered muting system first introduced in Tweetbot. Unfortunatley, these mute filters will not work with ADN’s server-side muting and Netbot has not been updated to support blocking yet, so anything you mute in Netbot will still show up in other apps.
While Netbot has kept up with most of the technical changes of ADN fairly well, it does lose some points for using the same old interface we all know from Twitter. That similarity can make things confusing when switching back and forth between the two. Even the push notification sound in both apps is the same, so good luck trying to tell which one just sent you a message. If you’re just looking for a familiar experience, Netbot is the way to go. If you’re looking for something new that sets itself apart through beautiful design and powerful features, you might want to look elsewhere.
The Basics Push Notifications: Yes Multiple accounts: Yes Stream Marker: Yes Global Feed: Yes Unified Stream: Yes Private Messages: Yes Profile Editing: Profile photo and cover image
The Breakdown Riposte is one of the newest ADN clients on the market. After Netbot went free, Riposte followed suit and saw wide adoption as a great alternative to the “same old” Netbot interface that many people had grown tired of.
Riposte can be closely compared to Twitterrific 5 in many respects. It features a stark white or black background populated by large chunks of text separated by light gray lines, and both feature similar Unified Timeline features. That’s about where the similarities end, though.
Rather than a traditional tab bar like you’ll find in most apps, Riposte uses a “hamburger button” and sliding sidebar like the one found in the Facebook app to switch between the different sections of the app. However, the app is best experienced in fullscreen mode, which hides the top bar and provides you with a bit more room on the screen to read posts. In fact, in full screen mode, there is only one thing on the timeline that isn’t part of a post: a semi-transparent compose button in the lower right corner.
Riposte also feature a ton of useful gestures, which work great in fullscreen mode when you don’t have the back button to return you to your timeline from another view. While many apps strive for creativity in their gestures, Riposte does the smart thing and keeps them simple. Swipe a post from right to left and you’ll see the post detail view. Swipe the other way to go back. On the timeline, you can use two fingers to swipe up or down to change the theme—up for light, down for dark, just like a lightswitch.
The main timeline is fairly customizable. You can adjust the font size, change which name shows up on posts, and decide whether or not you want posts directed at strangers in your feed. A few aesthetic options include in-line image previews and a colored/monochromatic sidebar.
Riposte improves on the Unified Timeline behavior that I mentioned regarding Netbot by marking mentions read in the Mentions tab as you scroll past them in the main timeline, meaning you’ll be able to use Riposte without having to change views at all about 95% of the time.
Other unique features include an “Interactions” tab, which works just like the one in the Twitter app. Here you can find a list of everytime someone has replied to you, starred one of your posts, reposted you, or followed you. The ability to disable “Hop-Ons” helps keep conversations un-cluttered by removing replies from people who jumped in the middle of the thread.
One last little touch that many users will appreciate is direct integration with 1Password 4 on the login screen, which allows you to quickly pop into the 1Password app, grab your secure password, and then jump back to Riposte to enter it.
Riposte is a fantasitcally simple application that many users will find easy-to-use, and as far as price goes, you can’t beat it. A few of the latest-and-greatest ADN features haven’t been added yet, but the developers are actively working toward integrating the missing items as quickly as possible.
The Basics Push Notifications: Yes Multiple accounts: Yes Stream Marker: Yes Global Feed: Yes Unified Stream: Yes Private Messages: Yes Profile Editing: Profile photo, cover image, and bio
The Breakdown Felix is one of the most popular clients for ADN, and it’s easy to see why. Of all of the apps covered in this Smackdown, Felix recieves the most regular updates (sixteen of them to date). These aren’t just bug fixes and “performance improvements,” either. Most of these updates add new features to the app, ranging from new themes to entirely new forms of navigation.
In fact, the navigation in Felix is the one aspect that has probably seen the most changes. The app features a “regular” mode and a fullscreen mode much like that found in Riposte (but to be perfectly fair, Felix had this view first). Felix’s full screen view works in a way that is so unlike Riposte it’s actually a bit unwieldy.
Felix’s fullscreen mode uses something called “The Puck.” The Puck is a round button in the lower-right corner (although you can move it around) that houses the app’s tab bar. You tap the Puck and it expands to show you all of the different sections in the app. If you tap anywhere that isn’t the Puck, it closes. Unfortunately, it also carries out whatever action you tapped on, so if you tapped a “repost” button to close the Puck, you would also be reposting that post. In order to avoid this, you have to tap-and-hold on the Puck, which doesn’t seem that obvious to me. I had to re-watch a tutorial in order to figure it out.
Gestures are everywhere in Felix, and sometimes they stop being intutive and start getting weird. Using two fingers to swipe left or right changes the tab you’re viewing. Double-tapping the Puck goes back. Swiping to the right also goes back, but you can turn this off (I can’t imagine why you’d want to though). Swiping down with two fingers shows the iOS status bar. Swiping up with two fingers changes the theme (Riposte had this first; many ADN developers are OK with others borrowing their ideas). Swiping left on a post opens the detail view, as is the case with most other apps. There are so many gestures in Felix that I often get confused and use the wrong one for an action. I also frequently trigger actions by accident while using the Puck.
Like Riposte, Felix has also integrated with 1Password 4 on the login screen, but Felix takes the integration a bit further by offering the option to open links in the 1Password browser (or Google Chrome, if you’re into that kind of thing).
One very cool feature in Felix that I wish every app had is the link composer. Unlike Twitter, App.net allows you to embed a link on some of the text in your post. That basically means that instead of posting “check out this picture – http://[link],” you can just tweet “check out this picture” and the word “picture” will be a clickable link that goes to the image. Most apps don’t support this feature yet, but Felix has a special link composer that allows you to enter the text you want to use as the link and the URL you want to link to, and the app automatically inserts it for you. As far as I know, Felix is the only iOS app to support this at all.
Felix has three different color schemes, though two of them are so similar it’s hard to tell them apart. This is also the only app on the list that lets you choose between a variety of push notification sound effects. Felix is the first client on this list to support ADN’s native blocking feature. In fact, Felix is usually the first app to implement most of App.net’s new features. As I said before, it receives regular updates and a constant stream of new features.
Felix is the Tweetbot of ADN clients. It may not be the prettiest app on the market, but the ever-growing list of unique features combined with solid implementation of the network’s existing features means Felix is a fantastic choice for power users and many casual users looking to get the most out of their ADN client.
And the winner is…
No two ADN clients are alike. Sure, some may share similar features and design elements, and they might even intentionally borrow these from one another, but in the end we are looking at three very different products.
Power users may prefer the additional features that Felix provides, and are often willing and glad to pay for the extra goodies. Others may be simply looking for something they already know how to use. For those people I would mainly recommend stepping out of their comfort zone and trying something new, but if they were very insistent on not changing their ways, I would recommend they give Netbot a shot.
That said, if I have to declare a winner, I’m calling this contest for Riposte. It’s the client I use on a daily basis because of its simplicity and beautiful design. I bought the app when it first launched, but now that it’s free I can’t recommend it enough. For new ADN users it provides a much better idea of what the ADN service is like than its competition in the free tier.
So there you have it. The top three iPhone clients for App.net put head-to-head for your benefit. Which one do you like the most? Let us know in the poll below, or tell us in the comments if there’s something you like even better than these three. Don’t forget to sign up for ADN using our special invitation link if you don’t already have an account.
Be sure to check out the previous edition of Smackdown, in which we search for the best keyboard case for the iPad. Looking for more software? Check out our iPhone email client Smackdown. You can find all the entries in this series on the Smackdown page.