I like Twitter. Tweeting helps me formulate thoughts in a unique way, and despite the company’s many missteps, I think it’s a net positive addition to my life. That should make me a good target audience for TweetReality: an augmented reality app, based on Apple’s ARKit, that puts your Twitter feed in the real world. Instead, I’m probably its worst possible test case.
TweetReality was released for iPhones and iPads a couple of days ago, and it’s gotten a positive response on startup showcase site Product Hunt. As seen in the promotional video, it turns the ordinary Twitter feed into a grid of cards that float in a half-sphere ahead of you, like a big force field of tweets that you can only see through a camera feed. You can tap cards to interact with them, or type your own tweets. One user writes that it’s an “amazing way to get more involved with your Twitter timeline — literally.”
When I asked a few Verge iOS users to test TweetReality, the results were more mixed. Everyone complained that it was tough to see the text on an iPhone screen, and some elements — like links, expansion, and support for 280 characters — weren’t working. But my colleague Shannon Liao loved the effect of a floating Twitter feed. “If it was bigger, I would use it in my daily life,” she told me.
I’m not so convinced.
TweetReality on iOS looks mostly like a proof of concept. It’s harder to use than regular Twitter, without much benefit beyond a neat visual effect. And designer Oscar Falmer described his app as a prototype for future augmented reality headset apps. “My goal was to innovate in what the future will look like, mainly by thinking to the upcoming glasses we’ll all probably be wearing,” he wrote on Product Hunt. The results are based on his research in 3D interfaces, and it’s not a stretch to imagine using TweetReality with hand gestures instead of taps.
But TweetReality doesn’t feel like it’s designed specifically around Twitter. Twitter is information-dense, designed to let you scroll a high volume of fast-flowing information at a glance. TweetReality, by contrast, is a giant board with a lot of white space. It asks you to shift attention across your entire field of view as you read, giving each tweet pride of place. It disrupts Twitter’s news-ticker feel — a framework that heavily shapes how people read and write tweets, and one of its most unique elements.
It also makes Twitter more imposing than I want it to be. Remember, we’re in the bleak future of 2017, where social media is a minefield. I like being able to box up the information I take in, limiting its physical presence in my life. I definitely don’t want to have Trump tweets suddenly overlaid on the Eiffel Tower. And my feed and mentions are pretty clean. (It’d be even worse if I were dealing with persistent trolls.)
I’d try something like TweetReality with Tumblr or Instagram, which feature image-heavy posts that benefit from the art-gallery design. I’d also try a headset-based version that more clearly “augmented” reality, displaying relevant tweets while I’m watching a press conference or hanging out at an event. I’d even be into a sufficiently redesigned interface. But for now, seriously — leave my feed out of it.