Twitter-endorsed mobile apps trouble third-party developers
Twitter Inc. is invading the mobile-application battlefield, where dozens of third-party developers have competed to gain traction for the last couple of years. Some app makers say Twitter shouldn't throw its weight around in the app stores.
The short-messaging network -- in a partnership with Research in Motion, the Canadian company that makes the BlackBerry -- released an official Twitter app for BlackBerry last week. Then over the weekend, Twitter announced that it had acquired Atebits, the maker of Tweetie for iPhone and Mac (and soon, a version for the iPad).
Developers of Twitter apps for BlackBerry and iPhone were understandably miffed.
Paul McDonald's UberTwitter is one of the top Twitter apps for BlackBerry. However, he immediately felt the pressure from Research in Motion's new app. He says RIM granted itself an unfair advantage by hooking into certain parts of the BlackBerry operating system that aren't available to third-party developers.
"Twitter's new BlackBerry application uses many private APIs on the RIM platform that third-party developers like myself have no access to," McDonald said in an e-mail. "In some ways, I think Twitter has shot itself in the foot, as this gives a huge opening to their competitors to woo the developer community." He then referred me to an open-source alternative called Status.net.
Kevin Cawley, who makes a free BlackBerry app called Tiny Twitter, doesn't support RIM's move to build an official Twitter program. Cawley called it "a waste of time" to compete with its third-party developers.
"I suspect this does nothing but dissuade developers from building BlackBerry apps out of fear of RIM squashing their efforts," Cawley said in an e-mail. "I think RIM should focus on making better phones and building better tools for developers."
To differentiate their products from Twitter's sanctioned software, many developers are creating or highlighting features that go beyond the basic offerings on those platforms.
For example, Brizzly offers a basic iPhone app and website that interfaces with Twitter. But it's pushing projects such as Brizzly Guide, which hosts user-contributed explanations of Twitter's trending topics. It's built into the Brizzly iPhone app.
"We would be foolish to think that building a simple, friendly interface on top of the Twitter API is a business on its own," Brizzly founder Jason Shellen said in an e-mail. Shellen plans to announce more unique projects in the next few weeks.
Betaworks, the company that owns TweetDeck, isn't concerned about competition from Tweetie, which will be renamed Twitter for iPhone. Betaworks' TweetDeck application on the desktop and iPhone targets a different audience -- the power users, according to Tony Haile, a manager at Betaworks.
As for the acquisition of Atebits, "we've been kind of expecting this for ages," Haile said in an interview Monday. "So we never competed on core functionality."
Twitterrific goes head to head with Tweetie on both the iPhone and the Mac. Iconfactory, which makes the Twitterrific software, plans to continue development of those apps, along with its new iPad app "until Twitter can prove there's such a thing as a one-app-fits-all approach," Gedeon Maheux, a designer for Iconfactory, said in an e-mail.
As long as Twitterrific is profitable, we'll continue to develop it," Maheux said. "That may eventually change, but that day isn't here just yet."
-- Mark Milian
Image credit: Twitter