When I first downloaded the beta version of the new Twitter for BlackBerry application to my Curve 8900, I'll admit I was enamored. The app reflected the minimal, simplistic design of the Twitter website, with obvious buttons, an always-present tweet box, and nice, easy-to-read text.
But I was also confused. I thought it was the creation of RIM, as that's who came to DVICE pitching its trial run, but upon the app's public launch last week, it was revealed that it's really the "official" Twitter app for BlackBerry, and that the microblogging service worked with RIM on it.
Upon learning this, I wondered what Twitter was thinking.
With so many serious Twitterers already relying on third-party desktop apps like Seesmic or twhirl, and a plethora of very good, and widely used, Twitter apps for BlackBerrys, such as my personal favorite, ÜberTwitter, why bother? I assumed Twitter would focus on continuously bolstering the network that supports the service, continue to add new features, and develop a real business plan.
But then I started reading speculation that perhaps Twitter's next move will be to start targeting third-party apps with its own, more complete line of "official" Twitter apps. And then, just like that, Twitter CEO Evan Williams announced in a blog post that the company would be acquiring Tweetie, the most popular iPhone Twitter client, and renaming it Twitter for iPhone. These moves, combined with the use of the word "official" for the BlackBerry client, sent Twitter's developer community into a tizzy about what its role would be amid a steady stream of "official" app releases.
That, in turn, spurred Ryan Sarver, Twitter's platform team leader, to fire off an email explaining the company's rationale (that the Twitterverse had become too confusing for newbies who had no interest in figuring out which app to use), and acknowledging that using the word "official" was a mistake that would not be repeated.
All of this drama aside, Twitter can consider its first foray one filled with promise. Twitter for BlackBerry is certainly an attractive app. For instance, it adds a lineup of easy-to-identify core function buttons at the top, reducing the dependence on drop-down menus that holds up so many BlackBerry apps. In general, it's fun to use and easy to figure out, and isn't that what's important? That depends. It's definitely not enough for serious Twitter users. For instance, another Tweeter I follow (and vice versa), PeevedMichelle, with whom I'd shared my beta download code, quickly pointed out that Twitter for BlackBerry appears to belong on the long list of apps plagued by excessive battery drain.
When she first noticed the battery drain, she shut down the app and switched back to ÜberTwitter, but that didn't solve the problem. More drastic measures were required. "I deleted that app and performance on my BB improved dramatically," PeevedMichelle wrote me in a reply tweet. Not exactly a recipe for success in the world of mobile apps.
Despite my realization that the battery in my BlackBerry did, in fact, seem to be draining faster, I chose to stick it out, continuing to use the Twitter for BlackBerry app throughout the beta trial, and while I didn't have any complaints about the very user-friendly interface, it became apparent that the performance just did not match that of ÜberTwitter.
One of my chief complaints is the frequent lag that causes the user to see hours-old tweets upon launching the app. I looked for a refresh command, but there isn't one — instead, you simply click on the interface's home button. This didn't always get lightning-quick results, but I'd hardly call this a surprise in the world of mobile apps.
In all, Twitter for BlackBerry strikes me as a good starting point, and I'd certainly expect Twitter to address things like battery drain and lag times in the next release. It better if it wants to unseat the third-party apps that have helped build the service into the phenomenon it is today.
Have some thoughts about the Twitter for BlackBerry app, or Twitter's plans to make its own apps? Leave a comment below — or find me on Twitter.