Destroying the App Store hegemony: Twitter's new Cards could destroy app silos

By Nathaniel Mott , written on April 3, 2013

From The News Desk

Twitter is where people go to be taken somewhere else. It's an information network masquerading as a microblogging service that allows users to find and share the best, most-relevant content from around the Web, whether that's an article from the Economist or a check-in on Foursquare. Now, with newly expanded Twitter Cards, the site is trying to do something similar-- and more powerful-- on mobile.

"With mobile app deep-linking, users will be able to tap a link to either view content directly in your app, or download your app, depending on whether or not they have your app installed," writes Twitter's Jason Costa in the feature's announcement. Photos could be viewed in Path or Flickr's apps, for example, instead of within a Web view in Twitter's application -- or, if they don't have those apps installed, they can be taken directly to the app within the App Store or Google's Play Store.

What this might look like for Flickr users. What this might look like for Flickr users.

The new Cards could not only allow app developers to better reach potential users -- a Promoted Tweet providing easy access to the App Store, anyone? -- but would also allow those users to view and interact with content outside of Twitter. Users could comment on a photo, listen to a song, or directly view a product within an online marketplace's application, embracing Twitter's role as emissary between services by offering users increased mobility.

This is a notable change for Twitter and different from many other applications, which often display content via an in-app browser instead of taking users to a different application because of Apple's restrictions on how much information iOS apps are able to share with one another.

"Every app is an island," I wrote last December. "The iOS home screen’s grid layout makes this clear – this app goes over here, that app goes over there, and goddamn if they’re ever going to overlap." Apple has turned iOS into a collection of many data silos, preventing apps from communicating and sharing information without clunky work-arounds. Twitter-- one of the most powerful mobile apps of all time -- is taking a sledgehammer to those silos and allowing apps to better communicate with one another.

It's not just about Twitter. One by one, other developers are starting to utilize these so-called "deep-links" to shuffle users and information from one application to another. This can lead to some intricate workflows, and has allowed enterprising hackers to create a tweak that replaces Apple's mostly-useless sharing menu on iOS with things people might actually want to use.

Twitter's new Cards, along with Facebook's App Center, are likely to be many iOS users' first exposure to fluid inter-app communication. This isn't a small developer releasing a capable app to a niche audience; this is two of the world's largest information-slash-connections-slash-social networks demonstrating how much easier things are when users can choose which app they want to view something in.

Seamless transitions between sites is a hallmark of the Web. Could you imagine what it would be like to have to visit your homepage every time you wanted to visit a new website? That's how people interact with their smartphones now, jumping in and out of the Home Screen every time they want to use a different app. These new Cards are Twitter's attempt to change that.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for PandoDaily. Flickr image source: Twitter]