A couple of days ago I decided to join app.net, the new ad-free social network you have to pay for to join (yeah, you read that right). I won’t go into detail why as there’s already plenty of blogs roughly voicing my reasons to do so. Instead, I want to compare two free iOS apps that are currently available to access the network: Rhino and Rivr.
A small disclaimer: app.net and its clients are all still very young, and a lot of changes are bound to happen in the near future. This is just an early comparison of apps that are still in their development stages. Updates on this post will follow.
AppNet Rhino is the first free app I could find in the iOS App Store. As the app.net API itself is still very young and its web client dubbed “alpha” is still quite basic, so is Rhino.
There’s currenty four screens: timeline, mentions, global stream and profile.
Honestly there’s really not much more to the web client, so this covers most of what’s to do on App.net, but there is some things in these screens that I’m missing.
First of all, I can’t swipe between screens. Maybe this is because a left-to-right swipe on a post gives you more options (like replying and reposting, something I hadn’t found out until after i made that screenshot), but it’s still something I try to do out of habit. When swiping right-to-left instead it registers as a tap on the post I touched and tries to reply to it. Kind of annoying, but I’ll overcome.
Another thing that kind of bugs me is that the app loads on the global screen every time, and has to load it before I can go to my timeline, which is where I’ll want to be most of the times. A ‘default screen’ option would be nice.
What does what?
Also confusing at times is what is going to happen when you tap something. The first three posts in my screenshot have a yellow corner, meaning they’re part of a conversation. Tapping it will show the conversation, but it starts at the top showing the newest replies first. To read the conversation chronologically you have to scroll down and then read from bottom to top.
Tapping any of the posts in that conversation opens a reply-screen where only the person whose post you tapped is mentioned, but the reply still shows up in the original conversation, even if you’re not mentioning the OP. This might be just how app.net works but I found it rather confusing.
Tapping a non-conversation post will open a reply-screen that starts a conversation immediately, which is logical. That’s good.
Then there’s other people’s profiles. Basic as they are they’re pretty self-explanatory. Except for the eye-icon; it mutes the user. You’ll only learn that by trial and error. But maybe I’m nitpicking.
What I’m missing most though are two basic functionalities: profile editing and search.
Search really is something that yet has to flesh out all across app.net. Even web client Alpha has just a very basic search page that doesn’t work anything as well as for example Twitters search. In addition there’s some third-party apps that will find some of your Twitter friends for you, but that’s about it.
Rhino however lacks a search functionality entirely. This is quite honestly a major drawback.
Editing your profile also isn’t possible. The settings icon on your own profile screen has some app settings but nothing about your actual profile. When I asked the developers they did insinuate that that’s in the works though. As I said, we can safely assume that everyone is still working on fleshing out all the basics at this point in time.
The good parts
When looking at developer Planet 1107′s timeline and the #rhino hashtag, it seems that the developers are keeping an eye on what people are saying. They responded quite swiftly to my questions too.
Another thing I like is the graphical design (apart from te UX). Basic as it is, it’s all very clean and clear and gives as much room for the most important things, the posts, as your screen allows. With the exception of the mute-button all the icons speak for themselves too.
After using Rhino for two days I gave Rivr a try. I’d seen it in the app store but scrolled past it for some reason, until someone mentioned it in a conversation. Don’t let whatever made me scroll past it deceive you though, because this is one hell of an app.
When I first logged in it gave me one single screen, my timeline. There were just two buttons at the top: the three-stroke icon that’s quickly becoming the standard in app- and mobile webdesign for a pullout menu, and a plus sign to add a post with.
The first thing I did was try to add a post. Pressing the + does the same as swiping right-to-left: it shows a menu on the right side of the screen where you can choose different types of content to post.
That’s right, you can post text, photos, music, your location or apparently a mood. Along with each of the non-text choices you can still add some text.
The photo feature pleasantly surprised me. Not only does Rhino not support this at all, Rivr even lets you add some built-in filters. I’m not a fan of the whole Instagram hype, but it’s nice that it’s possible at all so people don’t have to switch to another app for that.
What adding music does I’m not quite sure of. I was able to search for music, starting by default (but not limited to) what I was playing, but where did it get its information from? The post (as seen in the first screen) featured the name and artist of the song along with an album cover, but it didn’t do much. Unless it was trying to play it and my 3G connection just failed. I’ll have to test that on wifi.
The menu-button (or swipe left-to-right) opened up a whole new world for me: where Rhino has only four screen choices, Rivr gave me this:
Most of that speaks for itself. I probably won’t use the #rivr page a lot, but I can at least follow my own favorite hashtags under #Topics.
The settings page has a couple more options than Rhino too. It even lets me choose to open links in Chrome instead of Safari, that’s a very big plus for me.
What does what
The design of Rivr is quite intuitive. I had to take a closer look at each of the five post types I could enter, but apart from that it’s all very clear.
Also, actions are consistent throughout the app. Tapping a tweet always shows a menu with options like repost, favorite and view conversation. Swiping always shows the post menu or the navigation menu (depending on which direction you swiped). There are no surprises in the interaction, which is how it should be.
The bad parts
Where for Rhino I ended with the good parts, I think for Rivr I’ve been praising enough already.
So far I haven’t found any real showstoppers, but it does bug me that even here I can’t change my profile.
Also, the “pull down to refresh” action really seems a bit despondent, often making me repeat three times to be sure there actually aren’t updates.
Another thing I’m missing, even though it has a decent search, is a way to find new followers. Searching for “html” in users gave me nothing, so it’s not searching in people’s bios, but really what I’d like is just recommendations. I’m always looking for more front-end developers to follow, so a recommendation feature of some kind would be really nice.
And the winner is…
Even though I really didn’t expect any full-feature apps yet (hell, even Google needed several months to develop a good iOS app), Rivr has a lot of good stuff going on. Apart from the minor drawbacks I described, which I’ll definitely get over, it seems to have more than I could wish for.
After using the app for a few more weeks, and if App.net gets bigger and busier, I’ll probably have a few more features on my wishlist, but for now my choice has been made:
Rivr is the clear winner. I guess it won’t take long until Rhino and other apps catch up, but especially in the web- and app culture early birds get the worm.