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Beyond tweets: Twitter weaves new approach to mobile apps

The social network wants developers to use its tools to make mobile apps, while also integrating its service along the way.

By becoming a central part of their world, Twitter hopes to attract app developers to integrate its messaging service. CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- Twitter's newest pitch to mobile app developers: phone numbers.

The social networking company, known for letting people broadcast short messages to friends or random followers, also offers mobile app development tools. Now it's hoping to attract app developers to use them with a feature that lets users log into apps using their phone numbers. The service, called "Digits," allows users to log into an app by submitting their phone number, instead of having to create a password or connect to their Facebook or Twitter accounts.

The service is the latest addition to the lesser-known part of the company that focuses on development tools, which includes its advertising technology called MoPub and its app testing program called Crashlytics. Twitter on Wednesday rebranded its suite of tools as "Fabric," stressing not only features of the the tools but also how each of them can complement one another.

Twitter believes that by becoming a central part of developers' world, it can attract them to integrate its messaging service, or at least consider it. It's part of the company's broader strategy to expand beyond social networking to become a central part of the mobile app development world.

One example of how Twitter's tools work was a poetry app created by its team. Once users had created poems, they could upload them to Twitter and read other user's missives as well. Another example the company showed was a music app created by Jawbone, called Drop, which allowed users to suggest music to play at a party by tweeting suggestions.

Developers don't have to include this functionality of course, but Twitter argued that integrating these sharing features make their apps more modern and help users connect with one another.

"It's entirely about you and your users, not us," said Dick Costolo, Twitter's CEO, during a developer's conference with more than 1,000 attendees being held here.

Twitter isn't the only social networking company expanding beyond its roots. Facebook last year bought app development service Parse, and has since expanded its efforts to include projects like a set of tools to help apps talk to one another called App Links.

It's unclear how well Twitter's efforts will succeed, but it's worked well for Facebook so far. In the year since Facebook purchased Parse, its roster of employees has doubled and the number of apps built using its tools increased more than sixfold to 400,000.

Twitter said it's making Fabric available to developers over the next few weeks. Digits, the newest feature, is launching Wednesday in 216 countries and in 28 languages.