Twitter's iPhone, BlackBerry apps spark developer anger

Developers argue that 'official' mobile apps from Twitter are intended to cash in on smartphones, even if it means putting third parties out of business
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Twitter on Friday announced mobile applications for the iPhone and BlackBerry platforms, marking the first time the company has brought out its own mobile client software.

However, over the weekend the company acknowledged its actions had caused outrage amongst developers, who are wary their products would be killed off by 'official' competition.

Twitter developed the BlackBerry application in collaboration with BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM). The product implements features such as: real-time push of Twitter direct messages; integration with browsers, inboxes and Twitter lists; and search for users, content and trending topics.

For the iPhone application, the company said on Friday it had agreed to acquire Tweetie, a popular iPhone Twitter client, from developer Loren Brichter. It plans to rename the software Twitter for iPhone. The app, which currently costs $2.99 (£2), will be offered as a free product, the company said.

Brichter will begin working with the Twitter mobile team and will help the company bring out a Twitter client for the iPad, according to Twitter chief executive Evan Williams.

Williams said the decision to release the company's own application for the iPhone was intended to stem user confusion.

"Careful analysis of the Twitter user experience in the iTunes AppStore revealed massive room for improvement," Williams said in a Friday blog post. "People are looking for an app from Twitter, and they're not finding one, so they get confused and give up. It's important that we optimise for user benefit and create an awesome experience."

Twitter acknowledged the decision did not sit well with third-party developers, who currently sell a number of competing apps via the iPhone's App Store.

On Sunday, Twitter's platform team leader Ryan Sarver responded to developer discontent, arguing that the company's decision to release its own mobile applications would ultimately benefit third-party developers as well.

"We love the Twitter ecosystem," Sarver wrote in an email on the Twitter Development Talk newslist. "However, when we dug in a little bit, we realised that it was causing massive confusion among users who had an iPhone and were looking to use Twitter for the first time. A new user wouldn't find what they were looking for and give up. That is a lost user for all of us."

Sarver said the company's research shows the service's most engaged users interact with Twitter via SMS and the Twitter website, as well as via a third-party application.

However, he admitted Twitter had made a mistake in labelling the BlackBerry app as 'official'.

"We will also admit our mistakes when they are made, and the BlackBerry client should never have been labeled 'official'," Sarver wrote. "It has since been changed, and you won't see that language used with Twitter clients in the future."

Developers on the mailing list expressed anger at the way Twitter had handled the release of the mobile applications. Twitter's explanation for its acquisition of Tweetie isn't credible, said developer Dewald Pretorius.

"To be quite frank, the argument about 'confusion in the Apple app store' gives off a distinct spinning sound," Pretorius wrote. "Tweetie really, honestly, wasn't acquired to own the iPhone/iPad eyeballs, capture the bulk of future ad (and other) revenue on that platform, and form an intellectual property base to extend to Android and other mobile platforms to own those eyeballs and revenue."

Developers had feared Twitter might release its own products competing with theirs, and the release of the mobile apps confirmed those fears, according to developer Arnaud Meunier.

"This situation happened on a lot of other platforms before, and I guess we all knew it was going to happen here, soon or later," he wrote.

The BlackBerry application is available via RIM's website, while Twitter for iPhone is available via the iPhone App Store.

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