At last, the official Twitter app for the iPad is here. Is it the best iPad Twitter app? Depends on who you are.
If you're a serious Twitter user, you'll probably love it. It's designed to be a complete tweet-and-browse-and-tweet-some-more package, so you can consume what people are tweeting and everything they're linking to, inside of a single app. The tradeoff for the added complexity is that more casual Twitter users might prefer simpler-feeling apps like Twitterific.
The interface starts out straightforward, like a simple cross between the Tweetie for Mac and the iPhone app. But Twitter for iPad is actually a bit more complicated than it lets on—it's the most complex of the three. Rather than sticking with the iPad's standard split-pane views, like in Mail, Twitter is kind of like its own desktop environment, with overlapping, stacked panes that move from left to right. So, on the far left, you've got the main control panel, like Tweetie for Mac, which is the bottom pane. To the right of that, and on top of it, you've got the tweet list—either the main feed, mentions or direct messages. Whenever you touch on a tweet, a third pane opens to the right, on top of the other two. If there's a link in the tweet, it'll open the browser. If not, it'll open that person's somebody's profile. (And if you type a direct message, that's layered on top of everything else via a popover, for four total layers.) You can switch back to the main tweet list or control pane by touching it, and it'll load browser pages in the background while you browse through other tweets. It can get cluttered quickly if you're opening sub-menus and other things—at the same time, it gives you a lot of flexibility.
The other UI choice, which can result in some quirks—like above, if you've got a direct message open—is that panes are designed to be the same size in portrait and landscape mode. The idea is that the tweet list and panels don't change whenever you rotate the iPad. It works, except when it doesn't. I suspect a lot of people are going to hate watching a browser window run off the screen.
In terms of the basics, most everything you'd expect from the iPhone app or Tweetie for Mac is here, like file attachments for photos, geolocation, search, lists and Instapaper support. There are a handful of multitouch gestures, though Twitter's keeping it simple for now. Pinching on a tweet in the list will explode it outward with a spiffy threedee animation, so you can see more details about the person who tweeted it. And if you wanna see a reply chain, just swipe downward with two fingers.
So, what's missing? Well, it's very hard to retweet anything without using the native retweet function, which is intentional—Twitter's actively discouraging the "RT @yourmom blah blah blah" method. There's no syncing of read/unread tweets across various Twitter apps, again for philosophical reasons—they don't want it to feel like an inbox, except for DMs. Native photo and video support's not there, but it's coming. Three-finger gestures might happen eventually.
I'm not sure how much I prefer it to my current standby, Twitterific. In a way, it does feel right, like an extension of the official iPhone and Mac apps. But at the same time, it's hard to escape the sensation of weirdness—it doesn't feel like an iPad app should, the way that Twitterific does, because it's doing something quite different with the interface. Time will tell. But hey, it's free and out now (though it might take a couple hours to show up), so it's worth giving a shot. [Twitter]