Ever since Twitter turned short messaging into an incredibly popular art form, there’s been a uniquely mobile aspect to social networking, and the iPad is perfect for this sensibility with its nice big screen.
Social networking apps for the iPad can also extend the reach of your existing social network accounts, add new functionality to your existing social networks, and combine social networks in various ways to save time and provide greater convenience. Here are hands-on reviews of eight of them.
Twitter for iPad
Requires iOS 5.0 or higher
Twitter for the iPad is a simple, easy-to-use app that’s almost identical to the browser version. You must first have a Twitter account set up in the iPad’s Settings area; if you don’t already have an account, the Settings tab also gives you the option to create one.
If you do create a new account, Twitter will ask if it can look at your contacts to suggest people to follow. It will also ask your location. Then it’s on to some suggestions of several dozen celebrities to follow, and finally to a more extensive list of several thousand possible people to follow in various categories like Technology and Health. After that, you’re on your own, searching for who or what to follow and posting your own tweets.
There are just four buttons on the left, labeled Home, Connect, Discover and Me. The Home screen shows the tweets you’re receiving. In the upper right corner are a small magnifying glass search icon, and an equally small pen icon, which is what you tap to start writing a tweet.
One problem with using Twitter on the iPad is that, because there’s no easy copy and paste mechanism, it may first appear cumbersome to pass on links to web sites and other URLs in your tweets. Fortunately, Twitter has addressed this problem in their integration with the Safari browser. When you click the “Add Bookmark” icon to the left of the browser URL window, you’ll see choices to add a bookmark, print, and mail the link, as well as to tweet the link. Click this, and a window comes up with the keyboard for you to type a message that will appear along with the link. And from inside the Twitter app, it’s easy to copy and paste links to re-tweet them to others.
Tweetbot bills itself as a “full featured Twitter client with personality.” Whether it really has personality is debatable, but it most definitely does have one thing Twitter does not: A price tag. It costs a relatively modest $2.99, and you might or might not feel Twitter is fine without these embellishments.
So what does Tweetbot do? Basically it provides a more supercharged user interface. It creates Timelines of tweets from one of your lists, such as for friends or family. It makes it easier to view threads by adding directional swipe commands to each tweet you view.
Swipe left to see more details, swipe right to see the conversation this tweet is part of. You can also double tap to get more details, and there’s a user-definable triple tap that you can customize to do whatever you want with a tweet.
After you install Tweetbot, it suggests that you follow Tweetbot to get update news. I found if you don’t agree to this suggestion you’ll never make it to the next screen, which is the main interface for Tweetbot. This interface is intended to replace Twitter’s (though you can still use Twitter on the iPad, with both apps using the same account that’s registered in iOS.)
Tweetbot’s Search function has a bit more to offer than the Twitter for iPad app, in that you can search for nearby tweets, trends, and people.
In landscape mode this app is more PC-like, in that there’s a list of menu items on the left that never go away (offering Timeline, Mentions, Messages, Favorites, Search, Profile, Lists, Retweets, and Mute Filters.)
These words become cryptic icons in portrait mode. If you use Twitter a lot, Tweetbot is worth checking out.
When you first log into Facebook on the iPad it shows your News Feed page, just as with the browser version. This page looks terrific on the iPad, except that you initially see almost no navigation.
Along the top left corner are icons you tap to bring up the navigation Menu, Friend Requests, Messages, Notifications, and Tap Menu. In landscape mode, the app very closely resembles the Fsebook website, except that Search is now at the top of the navigation Menu.
The Navigation menu presents you with News Feed, Nearby, Friends, Close Friends, Family, Acquaintances, Restricted, Like Pages, a Facebook App Center, Find Friends, Photos, Notes, Pokes, and Offers. (Also there’s Help, Settings, Policies, Report a Problem and Log Out, allowing several people to share an iPad and to use this app with different accounts.)
The App Center provides an alternate way to get apps without going through the iTunes store. This might seem like no big deal in the web browser version of Facebook, but it’s actually interesting to encounter this on the iPad in light of Apple’s usual tendency to monopolize everything.
All apps here, of course, are integrated with Facebook (so if you play a game, for example, friends can see your scores). Top choices include SoundCloud, Pinterest, Draw Something and Diamond Dash. There are only a few dozen apps here in total, leaving one wondering why these in particular have been selected. Overall, this app is about on par with the browser version and a great mobile alternative.
This app touts itself as “Fast, simple, free text and voice messaging.” When you first launch imo, it asks for your phone number (assumed to be mobile) and your SMS verification code. In small-icon-print at the bottom, the app says that you can also sign up using a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn account.
I went with Twitter, and the app asked me to create a public profile, with an email address, password, and birthdate (which it says won’t be public, go figure). The app implies you must take a fresh new photo for it, but then when you click on the “snap a photo” button it provides access to the iPad camera roll to select an already-stored image. Next the app asks you for your username (already set), your domain, your location, your education and employer, and to write about yourself and your interests.
What do you get for all this data entry effort? The ability to make free phone calls (over Wi-Fi), to send and receive instant messages and to hold group chats with friends, family and business contacts using up to ten different voice call or instant messaging systems: Facebook Chat, Google Talk, Skype, MSN Messenger (ICQ), AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Jabber, Hyves, VKontackte, and Steam.
One of the coolest things here is that you can search for people across all of these different networks. (The search appears limited to those who are currently logged in, however, so it’s not quite like a phone/im directory.) You can also attach photos, and a unique new photo-sharing chat system enables a group of people to all share photos as they’re taking them. Overall, imo is a very well rounded contact management app which you can use to reach people in a variety of ways.
When you first launch SU, you’re offered a quick slide outlining the premise of the service, which is you will “stumble into the awesome.” Signing up offers options of joining with Facebook, Google, or an email account.
Signup is painless enough, with no confirmation required. Next the app asks you to choose at least five interests to “launch your epic Internet adventure of awesome.” These categories are listed alphabetically, starting with Action Movies, Alternate Energy, American Football, and so forth, and ending with Technology, Travel, Vintage Cars, and Wine, with several dozen choices in total. I picked five, and then a welcome screen beckoned me to swipe and take a tour.
Your home page consists of five big buttons: Just for You, Epic Lists, Specific Interest, Social Activity and Trending. A convenient Slide tool lets you take a peek at pages referenced without actually navigating there. You can look closer at any page of interest, or keep swiping right to left, and as you do, you keep seeing more items of interest in your category. It never repeats, at least for fifteen or twenty minutes worth of swiping.
Each page you visit is contained within the StumbleUpon frame, and at the bottom thumbs up and down buttons let you vote your preferences. The thumbs ups lead directly to what’s featured in the Trending section. The Epic Lists area is less customized, except that you can also create your own lists and follow lists created by others. The most popular lists have about five to fifteen thousand followers.
The top one (currently) is called The More You Know, and it features general interest items from history, the arts, photography, humor, travel, etc.
The Social Activity area appears to have a selection of relevant pages from sites that are more Social Networking sites, like YouTube, but the line is blurry and this area seems almost indistinguishable from the Specific Interest section.
The same can really be said about the “Just for You” section, for that matter. Despite this fuzziness of categories, StumbleUpon proved true to its name. I spent far more time stumbling upon interesting articles and videos than I had intended to when I set out to write this review. I think that this is the ultimate endorsement.
Flipboard bills itself as “Your Social News Magazine,” and it’s an apt description. Flipboard integrates Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more into a very uniform interface. When you first launch it, the welcome screen says, “You can see everything from here.”
Next you create your account, which requires first picking areas of interest (news, technology, sports, style, film, travel, science, etc. ) There are just eighteen categories.
Next you “build your Flipboard,” which shows up like a custom magazine reflecting the interests you selected.
There are also buttons for Twitter and Facebook. Click on anything and you’re offered a series of relevant articles that you can swipe through.
Unlike with StumbleUpon, however, all of these articles are reformatted to appear really nicely on the Flipboard screen, in a very elegant and consistent magazine format. It feels much more like reading a real magazine than any other aggregation type app that I’ve ever seen.
Enter your Facebook and Twitter account info, and then you can also use Flipboard to view your timelines, post messages, view other messages that reference you, and more.
The only advantage here, however, is keeping these functions within the same magazine-style interface. More useful is the write icon that appears in the lower right corner as you’re browsing through articles. This lets you conveniently link the article to Facebook messages and tweets.
GetGlue is a TV program guide recommendation engine, meaning that it doesn’t show you everything currently on TV, but rather, what it recommends. The GetGlue app takes a really long time to initially launch, like over a minute. Then you’re asked to either sign up with your Facebook account, sign up with email, or skip.
There are just three buttons along the left, labeled Guide, Feed, and You. The Guide shows you what’s recommended that’s on now and in the next few hours.
Feed is the interactive part, where you tell GetGlue what you’re watching. If you link to your Facebook account and your Facebook friends are also using GetGlue (something in all likelihood you’d need to arrange), you can see what they’re watching.
Actually, your Facebook TV-watching friends are just one tab in the Feed area. There are also tabs for specific TV shows.
Tap on one of these tabs and you see an ad for the show and a chat area where people are talking about it.
This chatting appears to be the heart of what GetGlue is about, an opportunity to converse with other fans in a “second screen” environment. If that’s your cup of tea, then GetGlue may be a promising app; if you just want to know what’s on TV, there are better choices out there. As the current list of TV-programs that have chat areas set up already is rather limited, GetGlue will work best if you and your Facebook friends all use it at the same time.
Hootsuite is a very powerful professional tool for managing multiple social network accounts, including multiple Twitter account. It includes the ability to schedule tweets and Facebook posts in advance and to send them out when you think they’ll achieve maximum impact. There’s one big catch, however, which is that the free account you start with may quickly transform into a $9.95 per month “Pro” account if you want to take full advantage, particularly of the scheduling options. (Within a small business you can also have multiple Pro accounts all accessing the same social network accounts, up to ten.)
The iPad version works seamlessly with the Hootsuite PC version and the price (free or ten bucks a month) includes all formats (iPad and iPhone, Android, and PC).
You start by creating an account with your email address. Then HootSuite asks to access the Twitter account(s) already registered with iOS. Then you can enter a Facebook account and a Facebook page, and then an Install screen appears, with a set of optional permissions — to access posts, RSVP on your behalf, and more.
I said yes to everything. The app located my Facebook page from the login info, and then closed. I relaunched the app and a blank screen appeared with four small buttons along the top, for Streams, Contacts, Stats, and Settings. I had to add my Twitter account again on the Streams tab, and then the screen filled in with three columns: Home Feed, Mentions, and Direct Messages (Inbox). Ditto for Facebook, which required going into the settings. To use the Stats, you must first set up a short URL for each page you want to track using the built-in ow.ly shortener. The Stats will only track page views using these shortened URLs, not the full URLs.
Hootsuite might be a bit of overkill for the ordinary person who just has one Facebook and one Twitter account. But Hootsuite is ideal for public relations professionals or anyone else who must send out large numbers of messages regularly across several different accounts.