If you are a blogger you are most likely using a blogging platform to host your blog. These blogging platforms will come with web based interfaces for users to compose blog posts. When these web based interfaces are accessed from a browser on the computer this works well, but may not be the case from mobile devices like the iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad. Of course there are exceptions, which I will discuss later. It is hard to find an app that takes advantage of the capabilities of these mobile devices while supports the functionalities of the blogging platforms. There are two blogging platform specific apps for the iOS devices: WordPress and SquareSpace. The former is the first of its kind and its functionalities are fairly complete, but there are bugs that will sometimes cause the lost of blog posts. The latest version (2.6.3) is even worst, so this is not an app that I will recommend. On the other hand the offering from SquareSpace is very well designed. It has set the standards for all blogging apps in the iTunes App Store.

Then there are blogging apps that support multiple platforms, like BlogPress. It supports the following blogging platform/services:

  • Blogger
  • MSN Live Spaces
  • WordPress
  • Movable Type
  • TypePad
  • LiveJournal
  • Drupal
  • Joomla
  • Tumblr
  • Squarespace

Since my blog is hosted with a WordPress backend I will only be discuss the functionality of BlogPress with a WordPress blog.

Due to BlogPress' multi-platform support the author tells me that the app cannot support all the functionalities of a WordPress blog. Even though this may be a good reason, this app has some work to do to get the functionalities that it does support more elegant.

One example, is BlogPress' terminology and concept of "drafts". There needs to be a distinction between "local draft" and "server draft" (draft stored on the server, not yet published and marked as "Draft" on the WordPress platform). This has been improved in the latest version of the app.

When the user click on the Save button to save a post, a dialog is presented with a daunting 6 options:

  • Publish Now!
  • Save and Preview
  • Save Local Draft
  • Save Online Draft
  • Save & Create New
  • Discard

It is a bit strange to see "Discard" being one of the options for a "Save" action.

Unfortunately, the "Publish Now!" options are not exactly what they mean. If you click on "Publish Now!" it doesn't always means that the post in questions will be published on the web site managed by WordPress. This depends on the settings in the post's options. Fortunately the "Publish Now!" option has been changed in the latest version of the app to always mean "publish the post, making it live on the site".

Within this options window there is a "Publish or save draft online" section, where you can toggle the "Publish" flag to "On" or "Off". Again this is not too clear, but "On" means "Publish" the post to the web site, making the post "live". The setting in the "Off" position means to only "save as Draft online" within the WordPress system. The behaviour after choosing "Publish Now!" from the Save dialog will depends on this flag. In the latest version of the app this option no longer has an effect, which is a good thing. I think the developer just forgot to remove it.

For new users who are familiar with WordPress, they will most likely avoid the "Publish Now!" button at least not until they are really ready to publish their post live onto their web site. Fortunately BlogPress has coloured this button red to warn users from clicking on it accidentally. I would have place this as the last item in the option window.

When writing a post the author will want to save constantly, because they worry that the revisions will be lost during the creation process. It is natural to want these revisions to be saved back on the server, for WordPress users automatically saving revisions while composing a post is the default behaviour within the WordPress backend.

Having said that, I believe users like me will prefer to click the "Save Draft Only" from the Save dialog. Choosing this option will save the post, and the app will move the post to a section called "Drafts". It is not until the user goes back to their WordPress platform to realize none of the revisions are saved within WordPress. What happened is that BlogPress only saved the revisions locally within its app and never transferred to the user's WordPress platform. "Save Online Draft" which causes the revision to be saved on the server rather than locally on the iPad. This is because in most cases the iPad is not where a user will finish a post therefore they will want to have their post in progress available anywhere they may edit the post, including back on the WordPress backend.

While this Save function is a UX design issue and less of a bug. There are some quirkiness in the app that can drive a user crazy.

After saving a post the app will leave a blank space at the top of the post pane for no apparent reason.

Another bug is the app's inability to autoscroll when the text reach below the current visible line of text.

This caret scrolling issue becomes most annoying when the user clicks on a spot within the post to enter the Edit mode. User expects the app to scroll the text so the spot where he clicks and where the caret is placed should be visible.

Aside from these clunkiness the app does have some niceties. One such example is its Insert HTML feature, which allows quick template insertion of some of the more common HTML used within a post.

The app also allows the user to insert images from the device's Photo Album. This has been greatly improved in the latest version on the iPad. Although it is still not too intuitive as the image inserted only serves as a placeholder. Any adjustments to the size and alignments are not reflected on the post until it is published to the server.

Since BlogPress does not really have a WYSIWYG mode, only images inserted using BlogPress can be seen, any other images inserted using other means the user can only see their respective HTML codes like the rest of the post.

This behaviour is very confusing, since most WordPress users using BlogPress will assume they are looking at the HTML version of their post, except for the few elements that are added using BlogPress. To make it even more of an issue is that images inserted using BlogPress do not follow the standard WordPress CSS styling so any HTML attributes added to the image are not compatible to the CSS styling by the theme used for the blog.

border='0' width='250' height='166' align='left' style='margin:5px'

The CSS and IMG attributes applied by BlogPress when inserting an image to the post.

width='250' class='alignleft size-full wp-image-7310'

The CSS and IMG attributes would have applied by WordPress if using the WordPress backend.

Conclusion

Given the state of BlogPress I do not recommend WordPress users to use it to edit or create new post for their blogs. This is disappointing as the WordPress iOS app is not reliable to trust it either.

Having said that, I do see improvements made by the developer of BlogPress between versions; as explained above. Therefore if you like to support the developer, so we may eventually have a great native app for managing your WordPress blog, you may want to pay the USD4.99 (on Sale right now for USD2.99) that the developer is asking for in the iTunes App Store.

The very popular iPhone app, Tweetie by Atebits (the Loren Brichter's company) has been purchased by Twitter, the service it's a client for. Twitter decided to buy instead of recreate its own mobile client, so it settled on Tweetie. It rename the app to "Twitter for iPhone" and then make it free in the iTunes App Store.

Loren Brichter will join Twitter as a key member of their mobile team.

This has been confirmed by Evan William, one of the founder of Twitter, on their blog.

At the time of writing Tweetie is still available in the App Store for USD2.99. Given the above news I do not suggest anyone purchase it until Twitter takes over.

I wonder how will all the other Twitter clients: Seesmic, TweetDeck, SimplyTweet, Twitterrific, HootSuite and newcomers like Twitepad will react to this news.

I spoke with the developer of Twitepad, and he said:

Development of Twitepad will still continue. Have to see how tweetie for iPad will look when it's out. On the iPad there are many ways to build Twitter clients so there still might be a market for 3rd party clients.

I guess time will tell.

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AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone

Newsie LogoThe Google Reader web client on the iPhone is not bad, it is one of the better web applications from Google aside from GMail. May be that is why there are very few iPhone client made for Google Reader. Newsie is such a client developed by Instant Voodoo Magic and released in the Apple iTunes App Store this month. It allows users to browse feeds they had set up in their Google Reader accounts.

FeedNewsie presents the list of feeds and folders from the user's Google Reader account in a list called "Filter News". This is strange choice of taxonomy, as it is displaying the content normally found in the Feeds section of a Google Reader account. On the "Filter News" screen the user can choose either to look at their feeds based on "Subscriptions" or "Folders & Tags".

After selecting a feed/filter, the user is presented with all the articles from the chosen feed(s) on the Articles screen. To indicate an article is unread, a green dot appears on the left and the title is coloured green. Clicking on any part of the article summary will bring up the Article Details screen.

On the Articles screen there are 4 icons at the bottom tool bar, which are a bit cryptic. The first icon represents the feeds in the Articles screen, follow by the icons for the list of Starred articles, "My Notes" and Shared articles. Although, these icons may make sense after one finds out what they are for, they can be reworked to make them a bit more intuitive.

Unfortunately, the "Mark All Read" button/function is at the end of the Articles screen. This may be convenient for some users who read all the items (25 or more, depending on your settings) within a feed, but it is a sign that the developer may not have considered all use cases for this application.

Having said that, Newsie does have several features that users of Google Reader have come to expect. Like emailing an article to a friend and marking an article for "Sharing". This latter feature is very important to me, as it is my way of sharing articles on various other social networks: FriendFeed, Facebook, Twitter, etc.. Surprisingly this sharing feature is not something that exists in the, free Google Reader client, NetNewsWire.

starredThere is a clever innovative UI in Newsie that allows the user to quickly toggles an article as Read/Unread or Favorite. The user simply have to slide an article to the left in the Articles screen.

FeedsThe really quirky feature is the way Newsie presents the folders from Google Reader. It lump these and feeds into what it refers as Filters, this is confusing for experienced Google Reader users. Aside from the icons, the chosen taxonomy also needs some rethought.

Whenever an application developer decides to charge for an application; especially ones that performs functions similar to equivalent free service, the developer needs to enhance the overall UX of the end-user for the service. Failing to do so right at version 1.0, may hurt both the application's and the developer's reputations, eventually effecting the application's ability to capture supporters for future updates.

mark-allarticle

At the price of USD3.99 that Instant Voodoo Magic is asking, this needs to be a more refined application compared to the free Google Reader web service. The only reason to pay such relatively high price for an application is to encourage the developer to rethink the application's features, and hopefully with 2.0 it will be a much better application.

In the mean time I suggest readers consider the free NetNewsWire or just stick with the web based version of Google Reader via Safari.

Ever since I started using TweetDeck this past January, as my desktop Twitter client, it had been my client of choice and I wished there is a similar client on my iPhone. Just a quick description of why TweetDeck is not a normal Twitter client. It has the standard functions to allow users to see @Replies and DMs (Direct Message), perform operations to Follow and Unfollow people. The additional function that TweetDeck has, which most other clients don't (except for the recently introduced desktop client Seesmic Desktop), is it ability to allow users to create Groups to manage the 100s or 1000s of messages (tweets) from the people you're following. This problem is worsten when you are following 100s or more people (peeps). On average, as of this writing, there are over 2 million tweets a day posted onto the Twitter network. Without the use of clients like TweetDeck it is not practical to follow more than a 100 peeps.

Since the introduction of Twitter API, there had been many 3rd party Twitter clients created for the iPhone. The two most popular being Tweetie (paid) and TwittedFon (free), but neither allow the user to place people they follow into groups like in TweetDeck.

TweetStack Toolbar

That is not until the release of TweetStack, the application refers to these TweetDeck like grouping function as "Stacks". The user can create several different types of Stacks: Friend, Search, TwitPic and Location. All of which are represented as labeled icons in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen.

The number of icons shown across the toolbar, including the All, Replies, DM, Favorites and More icons can be changed within the application settings, accessible from the iPhone's Settings icon.

TweetStack Tweets

The default is to show 5 icons, with 6, 7 and 8 as options. When there are more icons/Stacks available than specified, the far right icon will change into the "More" icon. Clicking it will display a list of stacks to choose from.

Clicking on a peep's avatar icon will slide up a pane for the user to view the individual's Profile, "Add to Group" or "Create Group".

Clicking on a tweet will bring up one of two Tweet settings pane depending on whether the tweet was a reply to someone or not. The version  that is will have an additional "Load Conversation" button to see the entire conversation of a tweet.

Double clicking on the empty spaces in the stack will bring up the Stack settings pane, which contains the buttons:

  • "Mark Read"
  • "Edit"
  • "Delete"

The ability to bring this Stack Settings pane up is a hit and miss, unless there are no tweets in the stack. Most of the time, the double tapping gesture will invoke the Tweet Settings pane. Some times instead of bringing up the Stack or Tweet settings pane, the double tap gesture will mark all the tweets in the Stack as read.

TweetStack Navigation Bar

On the top of the page is a navigation bar. The purpose of the navigations are fairly self explanatory except for one, go "Back" a screen, "Refresh" the display, not sure what the "up arrow" icon mean, create a "New" tweet and "Add a new Stack".

The "up arrow" button performs an upload of the stacks, but not sure where these uploads went and how to download the uploaded stacks.

A welcome feature in TweetStack is it's ability to import the columns from TweetDeck; since it is the most popular Twitter client after the Twitter.com web site. You will need to follow the instructions on TweetStack's web site before you add the Twitter account to TweetStack. If you had already added the Twitter account you will have to delete it first before following TweetStack's instructions.

The advantage TweetStack has over other clients is with it's grouping feature, unfortunately, it is overshadowed by it's quirkiness and unpolished feel. It choose to use slide up panes instead of switching windows for displaying settings, which there are many. I don't think this is the right UI choice.

TweetStack Tweet Settings TweetStack Tweet Settings with Conversation TweetStack Peep Settings

TweetStack Edit Stack

For some reason the Edit Friend Stack screen does not show all the individuals that I follow. Plus there are several individuals who had their Twitter ID shown instead of their Twitter Username or Real Name. This may be caused by quirkiness in the Twitter API, but I did not see this in other Twitter clients on the iPhone.

The individuals that are shown does not appear to be based on any particular selection criterions from the 100s of individuals I am following.

There are no indicators to mark an individual in the list as already belonging to another Friend Stack, this is one of the things that TweetDeck does very well. I agree that an individual may belong to more than one Friend Stack, but it will still be nice to be able to see whether an individual has an other Friend Stack membership.

Hopefully TweetStack's next version will be much more stable and some of its usability elements refined. For people who follow more than a 100 people the USD2.99 it is asking for on iTunes App Store may be worth it.

Note: the version I reviewed above is 1.0.1 and the developer had already informed me that 1.0.2 with many bug fixes and improvements had been submitted to Apple for approval. As soon as the new version is available on the iTunes App Store, I will do an update of this review.

Posted
AuthorVinko
Categoriesiphone, review