A deep integration of Twitter and iOS 5 was among the many things announced by Apple today but it’s not just that you’ll be able to post to Twitter from inside official Apple apps like photos and maps. Any 3rd party iOS developer will be able to leverage a number of Twitter Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to make their apps better and more social. After email, SMS and iOS messaging, Twitter will now become a key social layer over the top of many of the apps on iOS devices.
The features that app developers will have access to closely resemble what other platforms make possible with Facebook integration, and Twitter’s being the one to land this deal is a pretty big deal for the world’s 2nd place social network. Twitter Developer Relations leader Jason Costa wrote this afternoon on the Twitter developers email list that the points of integration will “create huge opportunities for both Twitter and iOS developers.” Here’s what that might look like.
Costa, who just joined Twitter six weeks ago to try and give that company’s relationship with developers a big refresh, announced to the community this afternoon that there will be an event on Wednesday at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco to talk about the new union of platforms.
My summary, in a sentence: iOS apps will look like, feel like, read from and publish to Twitter like never before. And they’ll do that in many cases instead of using Facebook.
Costa summarizes thusly.
- “There is single sign-on, which allows you to retrieve a user’s identity, avatar, and other profile data.” That sounds like Facebook Connect, but I’m going to guess that Twitter will not prohibit developers from caching that data for time-shifted, aggregate, offline or other interesting types of analysis. Letting users skip having to create an account with every new app they download and instead click to log-in with their Twitter accounts is going to make many users very happy and encourage every iOS owner to get a Twitter account if they don’t have one already. App developers will get more and better populated user accounts, faster.
- “There’s also a frictionless core signing service, allowing you to make and sign any call to the Twitter API.” To be honest, I’m not really sure what this means. Perhaps it means that parts of the Twitter API that require user authentication will be accessible via the same single sign-on feature discussed above.
- “There is follow graph synchronization, which enables you to bootstrap a user’s social graph for your app.” In other words, apps will be able to offer users to find their Twitter friends who are also using a new app they’ve installed, and connect with them there too. That’s the kind of solution to the user-level “cold start problem” that Facebook Connect has been so helpful with for web apps.
- “Furthermore, there is the tweet sheet feature, giving your app distribution and reach across Twitter.” Again, like Facebook Connect, this is a feature that appears to make it easy for apps to publish user activity and promotional messages out into the Twitter streams of a user’s friends. Facebook has a complicated algorithm that determines how often an app is allowed to publish messages out into the Newsfeed of a user’s friends, based on how much interactions messages from that app have received in the past. That’s a spam control mechanism that I’m going to guess Twitter will not replicate, at least at first.
- “Loren Brichter [creator of beautiful iPhone Twitter app Tweetie, which was acquired and turned into the official Twitter iPhone app] will also be talking about ABUIKit, a UI framework specifically for Mac, which we’ll be open-sourcing.” Those are Costa’s words. Longtime social media leader Anil Dash has this to say about ABUIKit, “I know 3rd party client devs are still mad at Twitter, but every ‘sign in with Twitter’ app dev on iOS will be super excited about ABUIKit.”
Twitter vs. Facebook
The funny strategic big-picture of all this is that there’s probably no chance that Facebook and Google will team up to counter this move with Facebook enabled Android phones, due to the intense rivalry between those two companies.
In other words, this looks a lot like Facebook Connect, but powered by Twitter: Fast account creation, quick friend discovery and social distribution of content. In some ways, it could be better for developers and for users. In other ways, like the number of users right now or the risk of spam, not so much.
It’s pretty interesting that after much rhetoric from Facebook about making everything, including mobile devices, social – it was Twitter that managed to add the social layer to the world’s most widely-admired phone. The funny strategic big-picture of all this is that there’s probably no chance that Facebook and Google will team up to counter this move with Facebook enabled Android phones, due to the intense rivalry between those two companies.
I assume that Apple’s experience with music social network Ping, which is inside iTunes, may have been both a clear indication that a social layer is not something Apple is very good at building in-house and a good introduction to working with Twitter. Ping included some Twitter integration but nothing close to this. It’s a shame Google hasn’t come to such a realization yet, but if it does and it choses to work with Twitter too, that could really rearrange the balance of power between Twitter and Facebook.