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Saturday, 10 April 2010

Twitter goes official, but at what cost??

Well well well, on the day Twitter launches an official 'twitter for Blackberry' app, they acquire Tweetie, one of the most popular iPhone clients, planning on making it the official iPhone app.  So what's next for twitter? Official clients for Android, Web OS and Symbian??  More importantly how will this effect the end users where choice is king??

When Blackberry were throwing around codes for an early Beta of RIM's twitter app it was seen as a move from RIM to release a full client on the platform. Yesterday however, following the release of the public beta, it seems that this client was destined to become  RIM's official twitter client and has been appropriately named 'twitter for Blackberry'. A client which in beta at least has left, among others our own mister_bee_ unimpressed, moving quickly back to UberTwitter.
Following this, Twitter has now purchased 'Tweetie', one of the most highly regarded twitter apps for iPhone. This $2.99 app  will soon be free and renamed 'twitter for iPhone' as well as re-designed for the iPad.

This clearly shows a move from twitter to control the user experience by officially supporting a client and ensuring a minimum standard. It also seems likely this trend will continue on other platforms like Android, Symbian and WebOS, but what will that mean for the twitter developers and users?

Twitter app's are one of the few areas where there is wide choice and selection of high quality apps available to users. They offer varying functionality, UI, 'pro' features and are priced accordingly.
If this trend towards official clients continue, these apps will likely be made redundant. Why would a user make an investment of £1 if the official app does it for free? Bad news for Twitter Developers.
Now on one hand you may be thinking from a user perspective this is great news. No need to pay for functionality as twitter gives it to me for free right? Maybe.

Before Facebook launched an official client for Android, i used Fbook which wasn't perfect, however had some features that are still not supported by the official client. Of course when the official client was released, updates for Fbook all but ended and i was forced to go official. I am still, 7 months later, frustrated by the official client that won't allow chat or the ability to view uploaded pictures without going in to the browser. In this instance an official client effectively destroyed the variety available and locked users in to limited functionality.
I am aware that the official iPhone client is far more feature rich and any time I've used it on my friends device, i can't help but feel jealous and think this is how it should look and this is exactly the problem. But Twitter is ensuring a minimum experience right? Wrong.

The user interface and feature set for the official Blackberry app and the soon to be official Tweetie app are vastly different.
From the Blackberry and Tweetie website:

Highlighted features for twitter for Blackberry:
  • Get your Direct Messages as soon as they arrive
  • Reply to tweets, re-tweet and send Direct Messages
  • Post a link from your BlackBerry® Browser
  • Take a funny picture and upload it
  • Share your thoughts or join a conversation

Highlighted features for twitter for iPhone/Tweetie:
  • Seamlessly handle multiple Twitter accounts
  • Explore all of Twitter, from your own timeline and mentions, to the favorite tweets of your followers and friends
  • Full persistence: more than just caching tweets, Tweetie 2 restores your entire UI if you quit or get a phone call
  • Fantastic new offline mode. Read, tweet, favorite, follow, save to Instapaper and more even when you don't have a connection. Your actions will be synced as soon as you go back online
  • Full landscape support (configurable of course)
  • Live-filter your tweet stream
  • Post photos and videos, even configure your own custom image host
  • Vastly improved compose screen with recent hashtags, @people picker, URL shortening and more
  • Compose screen multiple-attachments manager
  • Drafts manager ensures you never lose a tweet (and you can even send drafts to Birdhouse)
  • Link Twitter contacts to Address Book contacts
  • Follow, unfollow, block and unblock from multiple accounts simultaneously
  • Saved searches sync with and the upcoming Tweetie 2 for Mac
  • Autocomplete recent searches and Go-to-user
  • Threaded Direct Messages and improved conversation navigation
  • TextExpander integration
  • Rich integration with Follow Cost, Tweet Blocker, and more
  • Edit your own Twitter profile
  • Specify custom API roots on a per-account basis
  • Nearby map view
  • Translate tweets
  • Preview short URLs
  • Safari bookmarklet support for easily sharing links
  • In-app rich text email composition
  • Tons of little things, including improved avatar caching, auto-refresh, refresh-all, seamless Twitlonger support, hashtag definitions and more
  • This is just the beginning. Tweetie 2 is already built to take advantage of great new features coming from Twitter, so expect updates turning them on soon.
Can you see the difference there? One is pushing 'take a funny pic and upload it' as a feature, while the other is talking about multiple clients and URL shortening. Even the UI's are completely different in the official clients:

                    Different UI's for BB and iPhone

So which clients are going to win in the Android platform? Twidroid seems likely, Touiteur is getting some nice reviews, Seesmic perhaps? Or perhaps an official client will come along from somewhere else. I'm sure Android, WebOS and Symbian websites will be putting a hit list together, so look out for that one.
In any case I really hope that if twitter are going down the 'Official' route that they really do take responsibility for the experience by ensuring equally featured clients across platforms and with the inevitable demise of the non official apps, there will likely be little choice available to the user.


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