Twitter April 9 said it purchased Atebits, maker of a popular iPhone application for the microblogging platform, in a move that underscores the value of mobile apps.
The purchase, unveiled the same day Research In Motion launched the public beta of a Twitter for BlackBerry application, curiously came two days after a Twitter board member suggested startups such as Tweetie could be in trouble if Twitter decided to start filling holes in its platform.
Perhaps the only trouble Atebits founder Loren Brichter is having is where to spend his newfound riches. Twitter co-founder Evan Williams said in a brief blog post the app will be named Tweetie for the iPhone and made available to users free soon.
“Careful analysis of the Twitter user experience in the iTunes App Store revealed massive room for improvement,” Williams wrote. “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 optimize for user benefit and create an awesome experience.”
Hence, the Atebits buy for Tweetie, whose creator Brichter joined Apple out of college to work on Apple’s iPhone. Williams and Brichter himself confirmed he would continue to work on Tweetie for iPhone and will craft Twitter for iPad.
“Some amazing stuff will soon be possible, both in terms of simplifying the Twitter experience and in allowing people to use Twitter any place they might be,” Brichter promised.
The acquisition makes sense and takes on a special shine in the wake of comments about the commercial viability of such products made by prominent venture capitalist Fred Wilson, whose Union Square Ventures has invested in Twitter.
Wilson argued in a blog post April 7 that certain third-party Twitter apps, including Tweetie and Twitter photo uploading client Twitpic could be acquired or phased out once Twitter begins filling holes in its young platform.
Wilson likened the trend to General Computer, which enjoyed success making external hard drives for the original Macintosh in the ’80s, but “faded away as Apple filled in the holes in the Macintosh product.” Wilson suggested third-party developers instead focus on key areas, such as social gaming, analytics and other verticals.
Some Twitter third-party developers bristled at this notion, seeing it as a threat to their programming survival for Twitter, which has some 70 million users.
Some believed Wilson’s post was a warning and a wake-up call, and even speculated that the move came with Twitter’s blessing to soften the blow to third-party programmers looking to make a living building Twitter apps.
The public may never know the truth of why the post came two days before Twitter bid to buy Tweetie, which also came less than a week before Twitter’s first developer conference, Chirp.
Williams assured in comments to the New York Times and in his post on Tweetie that there is plenty of room at Twitter’s table for those who build the right product during the company’s growth.
“As we work to provide the best possible Twitter experience on all of the major mobile platforms, momentum will increase dramatically,” Williams wrote. “Millions more active, engaged, mobile users means more opportunities for all of us.”
Some developers aren’t putting their total faith in Twitter. Loic Le Meur, founder of Twitter desktop client Seesmic.com, wrote that while it’s “a step towards serious competition with its ecosystem”:
“Interesting Twitter launches its own first mobile client a few days before its first platform ecosystem conference. What’s the message being sent to developers? I am actually not worried, I think no one should depend only on one platform and that’s what we’re doing while keeping a close partnership with Twitter.”
There is no shortage of anger burbling around Twitter’s third-party developer ecosystem, which includes 50,000-plus programmers. Read their comments on the #unionoftwitterapps hashtag.