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Twitter calls time on apps, heading for Apple-style walled garden?

Twitter has called time on third-party apps. Could this be a shift toward Apple-style tight controls on the service?

Twitter has called time on Twitter apps. Twitter's Ryan Sarver said in a letter to the developer community that the 140-character service needs to "move to a less fragmented world, where every user can experience Twitter in a consistent way." Could this be a shift toward Apple-style tight controls on the social-networking service?

Twitter doesn't want to see any more apps that simply mimic what you can get from Twitter's own website or apps, but it isn't shutting out app developers entirely. Sarver tells existing apps they can continue to serve existing users, but Twitter "will be holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users' privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service."

Twitter is also encouraging apps that "focus on areas outside of the mainstream consumer client experience". Sarver points to services like Foursquare and Instagram that integrate with Twitter, and tools for major publishers to use and measure the service. Guiding developers towards publisher tools suggests Twitter sees its future growth in publishers and advertising now the user audience is so massive.

App, app and away

Third-party applications were a major factor in Twitter's early growth. In the early days, the service's simplicity and lack of features made it a playground of the imagination for users to come up with their own ways to use those 140 characters. Similarly, developers could use Twitter as a foundation to build unique apps with their own key strengths.

Apps such as Echofon created a great mobile experience, while TweetDeck and Seesmic offered a broad desktop experience (latterly, both mobile too). The fact you could access Twitter wherever you wanted and take advantage of features the core service lacked meant you could personalise the service and build it into your everyday activities.

But in the last year or so, Twitter has absorbed many of the innovations pioneered by apps. Stuff that users made up like retweets and @ replies have been formalised, geolocation and lists have been added, and you can now share media such as links and videos through Twitter's own website and the official apps on the phone.

In fact, there are very few unique selling points left in third-party apps, other than a slightly different user experience -- the only feature we miss from Twitter itself is the ability to use more than one account at the same time. Add to those improvements the fact that Twitter's audience has exploded to non-techie users who don't know an app from an elbow, and Sarver reckons that over 90 per cent of tweeters use one of Twitter's official clients.

Apps to Apple?

Twitter could be moving from the anarchic, frontier days of open app development to a walled garden of higher standards but tighter control. In other words, from the free-and-easy Android approach to the uptight Apple way. Google's Android system for phones and tablets is open-source and welcomes any app developer -- which can lead to problems -- while Apple has closed standards -- which can lead to different sorts of problems.

As apps are left out in the cold, Twitter could be freezing out all the other services and companies playing a part in the tweetsphere ecosystem, perhaps with an eye to introducing adverts and finally making some money.

Which Twitter apps do you use? Which features would Twitter have to adopt before you gave up on apps? And what does the future hold for the service? Share your thoughts -- in 140 characters or less, naturally -- in the comments, on our Facebook wall, or @cnetuk.