App Spotlight: Twitter PWA

I'm a shameless fan of the UWP platform and Microsoft's Fluent Design paradigm, if this weekly column hasn't already made that clear, which is why I will approach Twitter's new Windows app with as little of my initial pessimism as possible.

I get nearly all of my news from multiple, carefully curated Twitter feeds. I make extensive use of Twitter's Lists feature on my primary Twitter app of choice, Flamingo for Android made by the excellent Sam Ruston. This third-party app allows me to swipe between individual feeds carrying different flavors of news and people I follow, and all attempts to use a single, multifaceted timeline of all the people and sources I want to hear from on the first party Twitter app have always ended in chaos, given these lists are hidden behind the hamburger menu and require multiple taps to access.

It is with this set of expectations that I have long been hunting for an equivalent to Flamingo, but on Windows. Tweet It! is a UWP app that comes closest, complete with Tweet Marker support, but both its slow-to-respond UI and issues I have with its usability have made me retreat to an Android-only Twitter experience.

Twitter Moments asking the real questions here.

When I heard of Twitter's recently reinvigorated app for Windows, I figured I ought to give it a shot, despite being fully aware that a first-party Twitter experience was not for me. I won't go into the merits and demerits of the general Twitter web experience, but will rather write about the new app with a focus on its usability.

Contrary to what some may believe, this is not a web wrapper for Twitter's full website that somehow squeezes its UI into mobile-sized proportions - rather, it's a wrapper for Twitter Lite, a Progressive Web App (PWA) that Google and Twitter collaborated on to build. The difference here is that as a PWA, the app has access to local APIs, so unlike a complete web wrapper, there's an actual degree of integration with the underlying OS. This app, for instance, can tap into Windows to push notifications to you directly through the Action Center.

Moving on to the interface itself, there's not much in particular to talk about. It's clean and straightforward, and while I appreciate that, Twitter has always felt like an odd mish-mash of font sizes and weights that don't often mesh well together, but I can't imagine this being an issue for most users. The UI scales quite neatly as expected, and the app itself comes with all the latest Twitter features, such as the new character limit of 280, and everything in general works just fine.

The dark mode that graces Twitter's full website and native mobile apps on Android and iOS is absent here, however.

Left: The full Twitter website, alternating with Twitter Lite | Right: The new PWA. Both windows have been squeezed into the same approximate size by me.

This brings me to my biggest caveat: the app doesn't quite feel like a part of the OS. It follows Twitter's brand of colors and button shapes and whatnot, which is perfectly justifiable, of course, but the presence of that blue Floating Action Button - an Android UI staple - and the lack of any animations and transitions makes using the app a sordid affair. It gets the job done asking for very little from your device from a performance standpoint, but it fails to delight.

I'm aware of how much I sound like a low-budget Anton Ego, but as someone who would like a program to take as much advantage of a certain platform as possible - both in form and function - I don't yet find the Twitter app to be what I would like it to be, and find myself ultimately disappointed.

Having said that, the concept of Progressive Web Apps genuinely excites me. I most definitely believe they are the future - they are far less labor intensive to maintain across platforms, with the potential to see much more integration with local operating systems to the point where the line between them and existing native apps is indistinguishable. There's no denying that we're only taking the first few steps into a world possibly dominated by apps like this, but when have first steps ever been perfect?

Pros Cons
Looks clean and has a nice, straightforward layout. Uncohesive, when seen as a Windows app.
Very light on your system. No animations. (Probably won't bother everyone, though)
Push notifications! No dark mode!

Progressive Web Apps are currently limited to Windows Insiders, since they require the upcoming Windows 10 RS4 'Spring' update. For those of you that are running an Insider build, you can download Twitter for free here.

Those who aren't running an Insider build will only see the older Twitter app by following that link, I'm afraid. But you can replicate the exact same experience with your web browser, through the Twitter Lite website, if you so please.

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