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Ask any executive at a popular consumer internet company about mobile, and chances are she will tell you largely the same thing: mobile is absolutely crucial. For many companies, upstarts and established players alike, that means one thing: getting mobile apps right.
But while some of the biggest names in social seem to be moving in the right direction vis-à-vis their mobile apps, one may be moving in the wrong direction.
This week, Twitter unveiled an updated iPad app, but not everybody is impressed. Daring Fireball's Jon Gruber commented on the inability to tap "URLs, usernames, hash tags, [and] images" from the timeline. Mashable's Emily Price says "When you load up Twitter’s iPad update for the first time, chances are you're going to think there’s something wrong."
And it's apparently not just high-profile bloggers who aren't pleased. As noted by Xconomy's Wade Roush, App Store ratings for Twitter's new iPad app don't look so hot thus far.
The perils of cutting off developers
While it would be unwise to jump to the conclusion that everyone thinks Twitter has gone backwards with its new iPad app, some of the complaints are well articulated and seem reasonable on the surface.
But the real issue here isn't that Twitter may have made some questionable decisions about design and functionality; it's that because of Twitter's desire to control user experience, the company's iPad app is essentially the only game in town. In other words, Twitter users who don't like the company's new iPad app don't have a huge number of other iPad Twitter clients to choose from, and given Twitter's new rules, they aren't going to see new alternatives emerging.
The impact on brands
Twitter's ownership of user experience is driven by the company's aggressive monetization strategy. Twitter has decided that it's a media company and that leaves scant room for third parties to create consumer experiences around the Twitter service. This may bolster Twitter's bottom line in the short term but it could be bad news for brands that see Twitter as one of their most important social channels.
That's because Twitter's popularity is due in no small part to its original approach, which allowed creative third parties to build interesting new experiences around its service. In taking on near-full responsibility for consumer experience, Twitter is creating risks that largely didn't exist before. Perhaps the biggest: if the consumer experiences Twitter creates fall short, over time consumers may interact less with Twitter. And that in turn would leave brands heavily invested in Twitter in a less-than-ideal position.
Obviously it's far too early to suggest that Twitter's self-inflicted demise is near based on initial reviews of its iPad app. But brands should pay attention to the criticism of the company's new iPad app: we aren't dealing with the same Twitter anymore. The stakes are higher, for better or worse, and Twitter holds all of the chips.