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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

A first look at the new Twitter for Mac

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Old Twitter (left) and New Twitter (right) in Dark Mode.

I’m an everyday user of Twitter for Mac1, and have been lamenting its seeming abandonment for a while now. Well, good news? Twitter for Mac version 4.0 appeared Wednesday—featuring the phrase “don’t call it a comeback” at the top of the release notes—and it’s got some major improvements. It also, perhaps unsurprisingly, has some issues.

First, the good stuff. The new app supports inline video playback, animated GIFs, group DMs, muting, and tweet-quoting support, all major Twitter platform features that previously weren’t supported by the Twitter for mac app. Previously, you had to click on a quoted tweet URL to view that tweet—not fun—and on a tweet URL to open a browser window to watch video or animations. Yuck. This is much better.

Twitter for Mac also now has a Today Widget in Notification Center (which shows global trends and highlights from your personal timeline), and a new dark theme for those of us who prefer light text on dark windows instead of the other way around. I also haven’t yet seen some of the bugs that the old app had for years, like clicks in one Tweet inadvertently performing their actions on an entirely different Tweet.

It’s great to see Twitter finally updating its OS X app. I am excited that active development has resumed! Let’s hope that the developers will keep working and address some of the rougher spots in this new version.

Overall, the new design is airy, with a lot more white space than the previous version. That’s not a bad design direction, except… two-thirds of the Macs out there in the world are laptops, so making the Twitter app more spacious seems like a mistake. (The app can’t be resized to wider than 585 pixels—1170 on Retina displays—and doesn’t support Full Screen or Split View.)

All the icons are spaced out widely, and every Tweet is now taller, because the Reply, Retweet, and Like buttons are now visible at all times on their own row beneath the contents of a Tweet, rather than being tucked next to the time stamp and only visible when you move your cursor over that Tweet as it was on the previous version. I get the design reasoning here, but it’s a big waste of space for an app designed to be a little floating utility.

The new Notifications view is problematic.

The situation’s worse in the Notifications pane, which has always been the strongest feature of the native Twitter apps—they get to tie into information that third-party apps don’t seem to be able to access regarding favorites, retweets, and tweet quotes. The old version styled timeline activity differently than mentions, which was great—someone talking to you directly is not the same as someone clicking Like on one of your Tweets. In the new version, that activity data is much more prominent and more easily confused with actual interactions. There’s an option to turn off the display of that activity, but I want to see it—I just don’t want to lose track of my mentions.

(It also seems, at first glance, that the new app isn’t as capable as the old one at coalescing individual actions together. I am seeing individual “person liked your Tweet” entries more often than I’m seeing the single “9 people liked your Tweet” entries. Perhaps that’s an effect of the app’s access to Twitter’s realtime API, or perhaps I’m just noticing it more because it’s more prominent. Either way, more actively coalescing those messages would make the Notifications display much better.)

If styling the two types of information differently isn’t possible—and why wouldn’t it be?—perhaps Twitter should move that activity to a separate view, a la Tweetbot. Either way, the main reason I choose the Twitter for Mac app—to keep track of this kind of activity—has become problematic.

The new app is also more aggressive with alerting me to new activity on an account, to a fault. In the old version, if I set my preferences to not notify me about new Tweets, but only about Mentions, it would only place a dot next to that account in the main window’s account list when a Mention occurred. Now any activity on that account, including random tweets in a timeline, triggers the activity dot. It’s another step backward.

Perhaps most disappointingly, while Twitter lifted the length restriction on Twitter direct messages a few months ago—they can now be any length!—and the old Twitter for Mac was updated to support that change, the new Twitter for Mac caps DMs at 140 characters. I have no idea why. There’s also no support for Twitter Moments, but that’s not really a great feature so it didn’t make me too sad.

Anyway, hooray for new Twitter for Mac development! But the work needs to continue, and not stop. There needs to be a compact view, or the design needs to be made more compact overall, the Notifications view needs a whole lot of clean up, and DMs need to be supported properly. I hope there are many more Twitter for Mac updates in 2016.

  1. Tweetbot, you say? Why, yes, I have tried it, and it’s never stuck with me. That’s okay. Not every app’s for everyone. 

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