The LockerGnome community offers access to a wealth of information, and I often tap it as a resource when I’m researching subjects related to technology. Yet sometimes the occasion calls for a visit to a forum that is focused on a very specific subject. When I’m trying to figure out why my aging Nissan Maxima is throwing its “check engine” light, I’ll visit my favorite car forum to pick the brains of fellow Maxima owners. When I find my Cricket Wireless smartphone no longer accepts calls after applying a custom Android ROM, I’ll post a message to a forum built for Cricket users experiencing similar issues. And since I’m using mobile devices more often these days, I regularly find myself visiting forums using one of the tiny browsers installed on my Android phone and iPod touch. These are a real pain in the neck to use. Web browser apps are fine for most casual browsing, but they are ill-equipped for visiting or participating in forums. Such occasions call for forum apps that are specifically tailored for forum participation.
Forum Apps Are Fast, Inexpensive, and Convenient
Forum apps download less stuff — less images, advertisements, less unnecessary information — so they’re faster than Web browser apps. Web browsers tend to display as much information as possible, treating forums just like any other website. Forum apps are more specialized, displaying only the information that is relevant to the user. You won’t be overwhelmed with advertisements using a forum app, for example. You also won’t find yourself waiting for images and logos to download every time you simply want to check out the latest activity in a forum. Forum apps cut out the fat and take you right to the meat — that is, right to the information you are seeking.
Besides being faster, forum apps also provide an inexpensive — or at least, less expensive — way to participate in a forum. Since forum apps download less bits, you don’t have to worry as much about the limits of your data plan as you would when using a Web browser. It’s easy to view a forum as a landfill of information when you visit one using a smartphone’s Web browser; there’s so much information, where do you begin? Tons of information fill your browser. Forum apps are designed to offer a different perspective of a forum, reducing it to simply the elements you need in order to read, compose, and subscribe to conversations. These elements are only displayed if you request them, taking less of a bite out of your data plan. Even users of lesser devices can benefit from using a forum app. One Tapatalk user reports that the app works on their phone’s 2G network, a data connection that would almost certainly choke up any mobile Web browser attempting to display a forum in its entirety.
Forum apps also provide convenient access to all of the forums in which a user participates (or, at least, all of the forums that the forum app can access). When you fire up the Tapatalk forum app, for example, you’ll see a list of the forums to which you’re subscribed. Entering a forum is as simple as tapping an item in the list. If you change your mind, simply tap an icon and you’ll be returned to the list of forums. This is more efficient than visiting forums using a mobile Web browser, which would require a separate window for each forum.
Besides being able to quickly enter a variety of forums, forum apps provide conveniences that Web browsers simply don’t have. Photos, for example, can be captured and uploaded in one transaction. Using Tapatalk, you simply tap the Reply field in a conversation, tap a camera icon, take a picture, and have it attached to your reply. Tapatalk will even host the image if the forum doesn’t allow it.
Dave Detert, a forum moderator, tested out Tapatalk early this year:
“I must say, it’s not pretty, but it sure does let me keep up with this forum a lot quicker and easier than a browser does. As a moderator, I like to read almost every post and that was getting pretty hard to do. Now I can catch up much quicker.”
Forum Runner and Tapatalk
The two most widely used forum apps are Forum Runner and Tapatalk. Forum Runner is available for iOS and Android. Tapatalk is available for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices. All versions of these forum apps offer the ability to discover and register for forums (or log in if you’re already registered), reply and subscribe to discussion threads, and perform just about all of the tasks you’re able to perform when participating in a forum using a regular Web browser. The differences between Tapatalk and Forum Runner are subtle.
Both apps have very similar features, so in many cases a user’s selection of one app over the other is based on personal preference. In some cases, however, only one of the apps can be used with a particular forum. This is because Tapatalk or Forum Runner plugins must be installed in the forum software in order for the apps to work with a forum. Though both plugins may be installed in most forum software, some forum owners choose one plugin or the other. (The owner may have determined that maintaining two plugins is too expensive, for example.)
Thousands of forums can be accessed using either of these forum apps, but there are forums that can’t be accessed using either, so buyer beware. The best approach for anyone considering using one of these apps is to install the free version of the app first to see if the app includes access to the desired forum(s). If the forum is not discovered, try the other app. If the forum is still not found, check to see if there is a dedicated app for the forum. Sometimes a forum owner will have developed their own app, and the app may even perform better than either Tapatalk or Forum Runner.
Have you ever used a forum app to participate in a forum? What are your favorite forum apps?