Twitter has long had an uneasy relationship with developers who want to tap into the network's wealth of information to make their own apps better. (See: the 2012 API changes.) But the company's new suite of tools, called Fabric, is designed to do just that: it offers Twitter's crash analytics tool, access to Twitter's mobile ad network, and a kit full of ways to put Twitter itself at the heart of any iOS or Android app.
The network opened its Twitter kit to developers ahead of launching Fabric last week. Already tens of thousands of developers around the world are using the tools, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said during Monday's third-quarter earnings call. Early launch partners are putting the new tools to good use, reaching more than a billion iOS and Android users already, Costolo said. So what does an app looked like all decked out in Fabric?
Turning weddings into trending topics
Kind of like Zola, a wedding registry app for iOS that was looking to Twitter for help building out new social features.
Since launching last year, Zola has drawn more than 30,000 couple who have registered for wedding gifts and honeymoon trips. Those couples have hundreds of friends and relatives as guests at their wedding--so basically, a lot of people have used Zola to prep for a wedding. But CEO and cofounder Shan-Lyn Ma wanted couples and their guests to use Zola after the wedding, too. So the app's team used Fabric's Twitter kit to pull hashtagged tweets and photos into the app for easy viewing.
All Zola's couples have to do is create a wedding hashtag before the big day and tell all their friends. Then they sign in to the app with Twitter after the fact to relive the experience. Zola's developers hooked into Fabric to enable Twitter sign-in and communication with Twitter's API. The result: A stream filled with candid photos and hilarious tweets from wedding guests that the happy couples might've otherwise missed.
"At Zola, our focus is on how we can provide innovative ways using design and technology for couples to really personalize and showcase their passions around their wedding," Ma told Macworld. "Wedding hashtags are a growing trend across all social channels, so we wanted to find a way to easily pull those tweets and images into a single place our couples could see in the Zola app. By lucky coincidence, we learned [Twitter was] working on a way to make this use case simple."
And it was super simple, she said, taking just days instead of weeks to build out the new feature, which was ready at Twitter's Fabric launch last Wednesday. Following the Twitter hashtag integration, Zola added Instagram to its wedding stream. After taking a look at Fabric's other tools, Ma said Zola will adopt Crashlytics.
How Fabric's features help apps run steady
RunKeeper uses Crashlytics, too, to keep the popular fitness app running smoothly. Crashlytics tells developers when their apps are crashing--and, most importantly, why. It's not exactly thrilling, but if the new tool keeps your favorite apps from failing you when you need them most--i.e. on a run--then that's good news for users.
Zola isn't the only app using the forward-facing Twitter kit to bring the social network more directly into your experience. Messaging service JibJab integrated Twitter's sign-in tool to let you tweet out the ridiculous photos and animated GIFs the app helps you create. Twitter supports in-tweet GIFs, unlike Facebook, though the app is fairly agnostic and works with both platforms (and Google+). So far JibJab is racking up positive reviews.
Twitter offers other tools as part of its kit. Apps can embed tweets and custom timelines by plugging in a couple lines of code, like the Wall Street Journal does. The network's Digits sign-in tool lets apps accept phone numbers instead of usernames and passwords. McDonald's signed on early with its Alarm App, which lets customers send offers to each other. To redeem the offers, you have to prove you're a real person--that's where Digits comes into play. Who knew McDonald's was such an early adopter? The fast food chain was also on board with Apple Pay since day one.
So we've seen how developers can use Fabric, but it's still unclear how many will embrace Twitter's new tools after a tense history. Plus, Facebook offers many of the same features for third-party apps with Parse, its in-house development team. Now the battle for users has jumped from social networks to the entire mobile app ecosystem, and developers have the opportunity to pick a side or go it alone.