iOS5+Twitter

A number of sources (e.g. Robert Scoble) seem to think that iOS5 is going to feature deep Twitter integration, and that this will be some kind of killer feature.

If there’s one thing about the iPhone I really despise it’s Apple’s failure to offer a unified messaging interface. It seems obvious to me, and anyone I rant to on the subject, that the important thing about messages is who they’re from and their content, not the way they were  sent.

Out of the box, an iPhone has the following messaging interfaces:

  • Phone App — recent calls
  • Phone App — voicemail (that’s right two different UIs just to see who has called you)
  • SMS App
  • Email App — until iOS, you didn’t even have a unified inbox
  • Contacts (not a messaging app per se, but integral to messaging)
  • Calendar (again, not a messaging app but…)

While the iPhone made everything before it seem like a sad joke, this is still a long way shy of ideal. I might add that Mac OS X offers:

  • Mail
  • iChat
  • Facetime
  • Address Book
  • iCal

You might argue that Apple is taking a UNIXy “do one thing well” approach to messaging apps, but then I’d have to hit you with a plank. The fact is that the “one thing” these apps are doing is machine-centric, not user-centric. If I’m anxious to hear from my wife, I don’t want to have to check four different apps. I’m doing one thing, but I need to parse it out into four things for my stupid machine.

What does all this have to do with Twitter?

Well, Apple tends to fix problems like this — where there are lots of ways to do similar or overlapping things — differently from, say, Google or Microsoft. Google or Microsoft would produce something like Outlook or GoogleTV with the ability to pull data off tons of different kinds of servers, and then integrate support for everything else they could think of into the same UI. And it would all kind of work. And Logitech would create a remote control for it.

Apple instead looks around for a new thing that could do everything, or almost everything, that people want, if they’d simply have the common sense to give up on all the other crap and start using this new, obviously better thing. “You don’t need ADB, serial ports, parallel ports, audio connections. You need USB.” Sometimes this works very well — e.g. USB. Sometimes it works really badly — imagine I were to list all of Apple’s bizarro video connectors over the years at this point. Thunderbolt is a very good example of Apple’s approach.

I didn’t think much of Twitter when it first came out. Or for a few years after. I got a Twitter account early and then it languished for years. Even now, I use it pretty passively. But eventually it became indispensable. The interesting thing about Twitter is that it’s:

  • Simple
  • Versatile
  • Easy to push data to
  • Easy to grab data from

If we go back to my list of the most important things about messages, you might remember that who the message was from was listed before the message content. All you generally need from a message is to know who sent it and perhaps the first line of text.

Contrast this with SMS, email, voicemail, calendaring, and what have you. Vonage and Google Voice currently offers email integration — miss a call and you’ll get a garbled transcript of a voicemail and a link to the voicemail itself. (With Vonage you get the audio file in your inbox … grrr.) This is better than nothing, but email clients are pretty heavy, and if I don’t want to use email as my central point of contact it’s hard to then do something useful with it.

So, it looks like Apple is attempting to fix the problem of too many messaging UIs by adding another one. In the short term, this makes things worse (just as there’s nothing to plug in to your Thunderbolt port right now) but it has the potential to make things a lot better.

We’ll see.