Aviary Review: A Little Twitter App, A Lot to Offer

I won’t lie, when I heard the news that the newest Tweetbot was becoming a subscription service, I wasn’t thrilled. This isn’t to say they don’t deserve the money; they make an excellent app that I’d easily recommend, especially to hardcore Twitter users, and they deserve to get paid to keep it going and implement some of the new API’s. Unfortunately, I’m not enough of a Twitter power user to be able to justify a Twitter subscription. So I went looking for an alternative. Something that was similar to the flexibility and power of Tweetbot. In the process, I came upon Aviary. After using it for a few months, I’m ready to talk about it.

Aviary is a zippy little app, in more ways than one. The app feels very responsive and quick to scroll through, read through threads, and compose or respond to different tweets. It’s also zippy in its update cycle too, which is part of the reason I took so long to write a review up. There were so many times, even within the span of a week, where there would be updates to either add an entirely new feature, adjust a function in response to user feedback, or just fix some bug that had cropped up. While the update pace has slowed down in the last month or so, I still see patches just about every week.

There are some features here that you expect in just about every good third-party Twitter app. For example it shows a chronological timeline rather than an algorithmic one, with the stuff at the top of your feed being the most recent stuff from the people you follow rather than what Twitter thinks you want to see. You can use gestures to move around the app or to interact with it, with some customization included. For myself when I swipe to the left it brings up the like and reply buttons, or I can keep sliding to just reply. Swiping to the right brings up the retweet options. You can also set how you want the app to open web links, namely whether to open them in the built-in browser or another browser app on your phone such as Safari, Firefox, Chrome, etc. And of course, no Twitter ads.

The default bottom row of Aviary.  There are 5 icons, with the text stating their purpose from left to right: "Home", "Mentions", "Messages", "Saved", and "Profile".
The default bottom row of Aviary

That said, what helps Aviary stand out are some of its more unique features and customization options. As an example, let’s look at the bottom row. You have some pretty standard sections, such as your feed, mentions, DM’s, and profile page. However you also have an option to “Save” tweets, meaning you can quickly get them without having to just screenshot them and find them later in your photos or go through your personal posted timeline to see stuff you retweeted. That’s pretty handy so I can keep some of those easily on hand. However, you can change those (at least the middle three). While your Feed and Profile are always there at the edges of the bottom row, you can change the order or shortcuts of the middle three buttons. Don’t care for the saved section and instead use lists? Change it. Want to have search more easily accessible because no body DM’s you on Twitter? Change it. Want to hide one of those tabs so you have fewer buttons in the bottom row? Change it. It’s pretty slick and makes the app feel like it’s your own.

A Picture-in-Picture video from CNET on at Boston Dymanics robot hovering over a tweet from MacWorld and TWiT in the Twitter timeline.
A Picture-in-Picture video from CNET on at Boston Dymanics robot

One of the things that really drew me to the app was actually the in-link previews for YouTube. Of course you can see photos posted by other users on Twitter, and if someone posts an Instagram photo link in their tweet that will be visible. But I’ve not seen any other apps do this for YouTube links. If you click on the YouTube link, or have previews enabled, you can watch those YouTube videos from within the Aviary app. As if to make it better, the app has support for the iPhone’s Picture-in-Picture mode. This has 2 benefits. One is that you can have the video playing in a corner as you keep scrolling through your timeline, but also have it keep playing when you leave the Aviary app. In other words, it’s a way to keep playing YouTube videos outside of the app without needing YouTube Premium. I’m not going through and watching all my YouTube through this little Twitter app, but it is handy when my favorite YouTubers post a video link, and I can just start watching it.

i want to highlight some of the accessibility features in Aviary. Now I’ll be upfront, I am not an expert on accessibility. Outside of needing glasses, I don’t have many needs for these. But just because I don’t I need them doesn’t mean they’re not important. Just keep in mind I can only speak for what I see available. That said, there are some good ones here. You have some standard options like adjusting text size, and some neat ones like line-spacing and amount options to help make things a little more legible. If you go through the options, there are some other good ones as well. To name a few, you can turn off translucency, you can tint detail buttons to make them more legible, and you can set rotation locks. But the one that surprises and impresses me the most is the option to force Alt-Text for tweeting pictures, meaning the app won’t let you post a picture without a description of the picture for Twitter to provide to screen readers and those that need it. Personally I think this option needs to be turned on by default, but the fact that it’s even available is a good step that I haven’t really see in other social media apps. Now you can still post alt-text regardless of the setting; just start a tweet, hit the picture button, and select your picture. It’ll be added as a small thumbnail at the bottom, but when you click on it you’ll see the options including adding alt-text. It’s even above the option to get a bigger view of the picture. I think you could make the thumbnail bigger and then show the option for alt-text above or below that larger image in some way, just to bring it to the surface for more users.

The Aviary Apple Watch app.  It says "Feed" in the top left corner, with the time in the top right.  Below is a "New Tweet" button and a tweet from CNET below it.
The Apple Watch app of Aviary

Aviary isn’t limited to just your iPhone though. For one, it is an iMessage app with sticker support as well as an Apple Watch app. While I can’t say much for the iMessage stickers, the Apple Watch has occasionally been handy to quickly look through my feed for info. More importantly it has an iPad and Mac client. The apps take far more advantage of the space given to them, such as letting you see your lists and subscriptions in the left sidebar, and letting you have multiple feeds on screen at the same time, such as your main timeline, a monitored hashtag, list, or trending page. They do come with some of the other features, such as the iOS 14/Big Sur Widget support (though frankly I don’t find the widgets on Big Sur as useful. You can also enable iCloud sync, letting your sync your timeline position across all the apps. Most conveniently though, the app is a Universal app. This means if you pay for it on your iPhone, you get access to the iPad and Mac apps (or vice-versa) at no additional charge. I really appreciate the developer, Shihab Mahboob, being willing to take advantage of this for a better user experience.

I still have some consistent nitpicks with the app though and some odd issues at times. Many of them focus around media handling. For example, if I start watching a video clip on Twitter (specifically a Twitter video, not a YouTube one or going through the built-in browser), sometimes it will restart playing from the beginning after about 5-10 seconds. Afterwards it will play normally. A more sporadic, but frustrating its, is when opening a video or picture, particularly if I try to zoom in on it, will freak out the app and cause the video and image to freeze and not respond to my touches. The only way to stop it is to force close the app out of the app switcher and relaunch the app. Again, this is not a regularly occurrence, and I haven’t been able to consistently replicate it, but it has happened a few times now that I typically give the app a chance to load a picture for a second or two after I tap on it before doing anything further.

Some issues are limitations with the app itself. For one, it is using the Twitter API v1, not the newer v2 API. While this doesn’t affect the core functionality of it, some newer features like Twitter polls and Twitter event links for work in the app. While I typically don’t find it a problem, there are occasions where I click on a tweet asking a question only to discover it was actually a poll. Another limitation is background refresh. Aviary can’t consistently refresh your timeline in the background, so sometimes you’ll go to the top of the feed, and the top will be a few hours or even a day old. After a few seconds or a manual pull down to Refresh, you’ll get the latest tweets pulled in, though wait for too long and scrolling to the top will be a little choppy. Also not a deal breaker given it’s not the only Twitter app with this limitation, but it’s worth noting.

Aviary is a great app with a lot of neat features and functionality within its app, a bunch of which I didn’t even talk about (such as the hidden game in the settings). What it really needs the most is polish. Thinks like the weird media handling and choppy scrolling with long feeds is something that I don’t see in an app like Tweetbot, which I might say is still the best Twitter app around. But between the regular (and quick) update interval from the developer and the number of features in it, I think with some more time we could see Aviary truly become a standout in the Twitter app lineup.

Aviary is a Universal app for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch priced at $3.99. You can download it from their respective App Stores at https://apps.apple.com/us/app/id1522043420.

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