To coincide with Twitter’s new look Tweetdeck, which was acquired by Twitter earlier this year, has been completely rebuilt with HTML5. It had previously been an Adobe Air app – essentially a Flash file that ran as a standalone app rather than embedded in a web page – so the same code could be used across any platform that supported Air, which includes Windows, Mac and Linux.
Since It’s built with HTML5, like Air, the same code can be used across platforms and indeed served to a web browser. The experience when you visit web.tweetdeck.com and opening the new Tweetdeck app is identical, this initially led me to believe that the new app was simply a wrapper for the site. But a closer look inside the app reveals that the HTML, CSS and JS are bundled inside it.
I’d be interested to know why they didn’t just wrap the site inside a native app, as it would of meant they could push updates to the app without users having to download a new version through the App Store, whilst still offering a consistant experience across platforms.
One interesting find is that they’re using Google Analytics to track the apps use, but since it’s an entirely HTML experience this makes sense I guess.
Overall I think the new Tweetdeck is an improvement over the previous Air version, although there are quite a number of useful features which have been killed (or maybe they just haven’t gotten around to implementing yet): keyboard shortcuts, the ability to filter columns – which was really useful for quickly finding something and single or narrow column views.
A very annoying change is the use of a modal window for new tweets that obscures the whole app until you dismiss it. I was also surprised that there wasn’t a transition for new tweets appearing in the timeline. In the Mac app new tweets slide in smoothly from the top, in Tweetdeck they rather jarringly just pop into existence and older tweets jump out of their way, something that could of easily been fixed with a CSS3 transition.
The new icon looks remarkably similar to the existing Twitter for Mac app but seems unpolished and an unfinished leftover from some early internal beta. Unusual for Twitter which usually pays close attention to it’s design and icons.
Noticeable in it’s absence is an update for Twitter for Mac, which has been languishing since early June. Not without complaint either, there’s a fairly serious bug where sometimes it’s impossible to click on links in a tweet. Perhaps the aforementioned similarity in icons is no accident.
The Future of Web Apps
HTML5 remains true to its text mark-up heritage; its structure and semantics are still geared towards creating structured text documents, not application user interfaces. Where Silverlight programs can deal with buttons, icons, list boxes, tree views, and other interface controls, HTML5 applications must generally deal with boxes of text, with no higher-level concepts to work with.
But compare that quote to the new Tweetdeck, HTML5 Angry Birds or the FT’s web app and it completely falls apart. With HTML5, CSS3 and JS combined you can make an interface as rich as you can imagine.
Tweetdeck hasn’t quite gone the whole hog of wrapping their website in a native app, but they have wrapped some HTML, CSS and JS into one and that certainly looks like the direction more apps are heading in. All of which makes it a very interesting time to be a web developer.