Mike Isaac

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Twitter’s Mobile App Update Carries More Third-Party Warning Signs

Twitter launched an update to its mobile apps on Tuesday, introducing a host of new, minor features for iOS and Android smartphones.

No surprise here, as 9to5Mac broke the story after screen shots of the app update appeared in a developer preview of iOS 6. Many of the new additions are merely brought over from the Web version of Twitter, including expanded tweets — which preview content from partner publishers inside of tweets — and there’s enhanced performance and overall polish to the app, as well.

Most interesting in the update, however, is one feature that stands out within the app: Push notifications, a feature that was previously available in the official Twitter app via SMS. Also, users can receive notifications on other actions while using the Twitter app, like mentions and retweets. Why so interesting? Because they’re added bonus features found in Tweetbot, the much-loved third-party Twitter client. Only Twitter expands upon this, allowing you to receive notifications for when specific individuals tweet or retweet from their accounts.

These are small details, yes. But it’s yet another signal that Twitter is taking charge of its official applications, incorporating features that many have sought in outside clients that emulate the Twitter stream. These are just the type of features that the company doesn’t want to see proliferating through the use of its open APIs, as Twitter product manager Michael Sippey made abundantly clear in a recent, controversial blog post.

In essence, if you’re a developer aping Twitter’s stream without adding significant value, you may be in trouble.

(Tweetbot, sadly, hasn’t responded to my recent requests for comment.)

The problem at this point is that Twitter hasn’t defined what constitutes significant value. The most common complaint among developers has been Twitter’s lack of transparency here, foreshadowing major changes without making it clear exactly who will be affected. Twitter fired the first shot in nixing its LinkedIn partnership, which shared users’ tweets within the LinkedIn activity stream. It’s possible that companies that offer similar services to users — such as Flipboard — could be next.

In all, Twitter’s main purpose seems to be twofold: One, “delivering a consistent Twitter experience” across platforms, so that users will encounter the same Twitter no matter whether they’re on the phone or the Web. And second, though possibly more important, keeping that uniformity for advertisers who wish to display content within tweets, and not losing said content when pushed out to third parties.

Keep a close eye on Twitter’s moves over the next few weeks. My guess is the company will continue in this vein, edging out some of the smaller third-party apps to wrangle its user base into adopting the official Twitter apps.

Update, 12:45 pm PT: A previous version of this article misstated the type of push notifications available on Tweetbot. The piece has been amended to reflect the changes.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik