Sparrow and Twitterrific move to the App Store, and what happened to consistent UI?

Sparrow, the Tweetie Twitter inspired (G)mail client for OS X, and Twitterrific (watch for that double ‘r’) the Tweetie Twitter alternative Twitter client have both released new versions today (Twitterrific should be live tomorrow) exclusively on the new Mac App Store.

Sparrow, £5.99, is already #1 in Top Paid on the App Store, but it remains to be seen how well Twitterific does. They’ve got a battle against them with Twitter offering an official client for free. I’m interested to see what unique features they intend to offer to compete (considering I’m part of that crowded space as well).

Speaking of Twitter for Mac, Sparrow has always been heavily influenced by the popular Twitter client and the latest version (the first release out of beta) is no exception: A sidebar for accounts, smooth animations and transitions, a custom scrollbar and a custom menu bar. This trend makes me feel like the forefront of OS X application development and design – once full of uniform and clean apps – has changed dramatically.

What consistent user interface?

Apple is known for its Human Interface Guidelines and uniform UI widgets. Apple fanboys scoff at Microsoft with their non-standard Office ribbon that everyone tries to emulate but doesn’t get quite right, their different colour schemes and overall massive lack of consistency in the products they produce and the products developers produce for Windows. But recently Mac developers (and sometimes Apple themselves) have been throwing away consistency and doing exactly the same thing.

For example, look at the difference in active and inactive window states in Twitter for Mac and Finder above. It’s easy to see at a glance if Finder is active or inactive (you can even tell from the thumbnails), but you need to take a good look at Twitter for Mac to tell the same. This is just one example, but off the top of my head: scrolling feels funny, the maximise button does nothing, it doesn’t like being moved between displays and the window shadows are different (look again at the images above). Some of these are fine details but are prime examples of why recreating all Apple’s hard work is a bad idea – you probably won’t achieve the same level of detail. And it’s jarring when things are different and on a larger scale confuses users.

Why is this happening?

Firstly Loren Brichter has been doing this for ages (scroll down to Tweetie); his design style is clearly influencing others to copy his ‘lets make everything from scratch’ idea. But secondly I think Apple are to blame, as they have started to ignore their own guidelines (App Store, iTunes) and I think this is probably due to the transition to OS X Lion. This is causing developers to try and ‘predict’ what Lion is going to look like (safe bets appear to be iOS-like scrollbars and sliding transitions), and being inconsistent in the process.

Until Apple release Lion and presumably some updated UI guidelines, it looks like we’ll have to put up with sometimes closing Twitter for Mac when we meant to close Sparrow because we can’t tell which app we’re using.

Update: It looks like Twitterrific has plenty of non-standard UI as well, from what I can see from the screenshots in reviews (see the following Qrait molecule for links to coverage of Twitterrific and the Mac App Store in general)


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