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Whether you’re a socialite, newshound, photographer, businessperson or hobbyist, there’s a social network and related iPhone app for you!
Social media networks have revolutionized the way in which we can keep in touch with friends and colleagues, along with how news and information is consumed. It’s now common for people to find out about breaking news before traditional news outlets have even reported on the story, and to keep in touch with friends from all walks of life, regardless of where in the world they happen to be living.
The iPhone takes this line of thinking and frees it from any remaining tethers. You can be on the train and check in with your friends, keep up with current events, or share your own personal experiences to all manner of services. In this feature, we explore what we consider the most useful social media networks, and the apps you’ll need to install in order to use them.
Twitter started life as a communications service based around SMS (text messages), the idea being that you could send tiny messages that could be picked up by a small group of friends. Over time, the service significantly evolved, introducing concepts such as ‘@mentions’ (to direct a message at a specific user) and hashtags (for grouping subject matter).
The service offers an asynchronous connection model, meaning that you follow whoever you want, but they needn’t follow you in return. Because of this, many people use Twitter passively, as a means of tracking news, celebrities, and local organizations. However, it’s also common to see groups of friends publicly chatting away using @replies.
Although tweets themselves have changed over the years, with apps now providing previews of media (videos, photos, and so on), Twitter’s yet to stray from its roots in terms of message size — each ‘tweet’ still has a 140-character limit, forcing brevity.
The Twitter ecosystem on iPhone is particularly strong, but three apps in particular stand out:
Size: 17.9 MB
The official client naturally gets all of the new features first, and it’s a refined and pleasant way to use Twitter. Unlike third-party clients, Twitter’s own app provides a Notifications feed for all activity relating to your account, along with a Discovery timeline that groups trending tags and interesting stories. These things make it worth installing even if you prefer mostly using an alternate client.
Size: 8.0 MB
This stylish client fits in perfectly with iOS 7’s interface, and is simple to use. However, it’s also powerful and configurable: there are flexible mute filters for temporarily silencing noisy accounts, terms or hashtags, cross-device timeline sync, customizable tabs, and support for a diverse selection of sharing services. For power users, it’s the best option on the iPhone.
Price: FREE [IAP]
Size: 10.9 MB
Twitterrific rather resembles a designer’s take on Twitter, with beautiful typography and bold aesthetic choices. Like Tweetbot, despite appearing simple on the surface, there’s a richness to this app’s feature set: there are gestures for quick control, alternate themes, timeline sync and filtering, and plenty of sharing options. IAPs enable you to add features to the free app, including disabling ads and enabling push notifications.
Facebook is the giant of the social networking scene, with well over a billion users. In its early days, it was just one of a number of players aiming to enable friends to connect online. The site was very simple, based around basic profiles. Over time, Facebook’s morphed into something of a mini-Internet, adding news feeds, corporate pages, and games.
The site primarily revolves around a ‘friending’ model, meaning you directly connect with other people, although this has been clouded slightly in being able to track fan pages by ‘liking’ them and follow people you don’t wish to friend, in a manner similar to Twitter.
Facebook’s come under criticism regarding privacy issues, largely through regularly making changes to its policies and over-sharing user data; also, regular redesigns have de-emphasized and confused the basic chronological feed, in favor of pushing advertising and supposedly curated content. Still, the sheer number of people on the service means that it’s worth checking out, and with careful set-up, even the increasingly hamstrung app can be tamed.
There are a few third-party Facebook apps for iPhone, but we’ve yet to find any that better the first-party apps offered by the network itself:
Size: 59.4 MB
The standard Facebook app is usable, straightforward, and designed for iOS 7. The tab-based approach enables you to switch between your feed, friend requests and notifications. The ‘More’ tab is very much worth exploring, too: under feeds, you’ll find ‘Most Recent’; when tapped, this gives you back the chronological feed, which tends to be more useful than Facebook’s messed-up one that mixes up ads and posts from friends in a semi-random order.
Size: 36.8 MB
This app separates out Facebook’s messaging service, and adds a bunch of other handy features. Along with the means to send private messages and photos to friends, it also enables you to share your location, so friends know when you’re nearby. More recently, Facebook added the means to make free calls using the app, in a manner similar to Skype or FaceTime Audio.
LinkedIn is probably best described as the corporate equivalent of a pared-down Facebook. Initially, the network was simple, with profiles outlining where you’d worked, and what your skills were; like Facebook, you could then connect to people on a one-to-one basis, thereby growing your network.
Additionally, LinkedIn describes users throughout the site by their degrees of connection to you: second-degree are those connected to people you’re already connected to; third-degree are those connected to second-degree connections. You can message your main connections, connect to second-degree connections, or ask to be introduced to anyone outside your business social circle.
Increasingly, LinkedIn has also borrowed from other social networks, adding, well, more social stuff — it provides a feed about people changing jobs, unearthing interesting news, and sharing photos. Unless you’re entirely obsessed with work, LinkedIn won’t replace other social networks, but as a means of keeping in touch with colleagues and finding new employment opportunities, it can be surprisingly useful.
The LinkedIn Corporation has three apps: the main social one is covered below, LinkedIn Contacts is essentially a contacts manager and isn’t much good, and LinkedIn Pulse is a fairly decent news reader.
Size: 42.3 MB
More workmanlike than amazing, the LinkedIn app is nonetheless a pretty good mobile alternative to managing your account in a desktop browser. You can post to your feed, explore what others are talking about, find job recommendations, explore connections, and edit your profile. The interface throughout is straightforward, if a touch cluttered.
Flickr and Instagram
People love to share photos, and so it should come as no surprise that entire social networks are based around photography. Flickr was the first really successful service of this type, initially starting life as a means to share pictures in real-time, before the emphasis shifted towards uploading, organizing albums, and a smattering of social via adding contacts and leaving comments. Although Flickr lost its way a little in recent years, the latest redesign is smart and encourages browsing, and all users now get a whopping 1 TB of free storage.
Instagram, though, is probably the most popular photo-sharing network, at least among people who regularly take photos with smartphones. The service launched in 2010, aping the square aspect ratio of Polaroids, and providing a selection of filters for that retro old-school feel. Despite playing nicely with a number of social networks, Instagram nonetheless increasingly added social elements to its own offering, before being bought out by Facebook for a staggering $1 billion.
Size: 41.2 MB
The current Flickr app for iPhone is really well put together; the interface enables you to rapidly move between a responsive feed, your account information, and a camera. The camera is a touch basic, but has great editing tools. Best of all, though, Flickr can auto-upload your iPhone images, giving you an additional back-up of precious memories (or random nights out).
Size: 12.8 MB
There’s a sense of immediacy about the Instagram app that suitably echoes the kind of photography the network was inspired by. You take photos, add a filter, and then upload; some additional old-school effects can be added and tweaked as well. The app happily shares to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr, but its own rather more focused social element is well worth exploring.
Tumblr and Pinterest
There’s some crossover with blogging and bookmarking in this last section, but Tumblr and Pinterest are both underpinned by a strong social element. Tumblr sits half-way between Twitter and blogging, but its core is about sharing and discovery. Using the app, you can very rapidly upload small pieces of text, photos, links or video, and it’s easy to browse topics or themes, along with creating a feed based around accounts you’re interested in.
Pinterest is primarily about inspiration, finding things that you love, organizing them via tags, and then sharing them with the world. Although you can pin items with your camera, Pinterest for the most part is a little like Instagram but comprising imagery primarily found elsewhere. Although of course open to anyone, Pinterest is especially popular with (and useful to) hobbyists, enabling them to share ideas, images of materials, and whatever else stimulates them to create something new.
Size: 16.4 MB
The first-party Tumblr app is an efficient and straightforward means of contributing to the service and browsing your feed, all from
your iPhone. You can use it to upload photos and videos, text or links, and to find out about the latest trending topics and blogs. It’s not the most stylish of apps, but it’s very usable.
FastFeed for Tumblr
Size: 9.0 MB
Whereas Tumblr’s very much a single-feed app, FastFeed is more akin to a multi-tabbed web browser. This enables you to open up a number of Tumblr feeds to explore, without losing your place on the original. The app can also be used for uploads, and while it’s a touch fiddly, it’s a strong option for Tumblr power users. A single $2.99/£1.99 IAP removes the ads from the app.
Size: 37.8 MB
The Pinterest app has a light and airy design that lets the content shine. The feed is responsive and easy to navigate, and it’s simple to pin new content, including from your iPhone’s camera. The search section is also smartly designed, enabling filtering by tag, and providing the means to look through all pins or just your own.