Twitter is updating its mobile web interface so that users who connect to the social network via feature phones or other "older" mobile devices can have access to the new version of Twitter which was released in December 2011. Twitter says the new mobile.twitter.com site works at the same speed as the native mobile Twitter apps developed for iPhone and Android, and that it uses one-third less bandwidth than the previous version.
Mobile Twitter Users Get New Features
At last, all mobile Twitter users will receive the "new" features that Android, iOS and Web users have had access to for the past five months. As reported in CMSWire, these features include new panes and tabs to "liven up the screen," as well as additional tabs to segregate users from content, a Home button for a default view, @Connect to help find new people to follow, and #Discover to keep up with trends and other content. One potential disadvantage for mobile users is that fewer tweets show up on the mobile page due to the new layout.
Feature Phones Remain Popular
Some observers may wonder why Twitter is even bothering to optimize its mobile site for feature phone users in a smartphone world. But feature phones are still very much a part of today's mobile technology fabric. According to Nielsen Company data released yesterday, smartphones became the type of phone owned by a majority of US mobile subscribers for the first time ever in March 2012, grabbing a slim 50.4% share of the total market.
Despite stereotypes of male 'tech geeks' rushing to adopt new technologies, women (50.9%) are slightly more likely than men (50.1%) to own a smartphone. Broken down by ethnicity, Asian/Pacific Islanders are most likely to own a smartphone (67.3%), while whites are the only ethnic group where a majority (55.3%) of mobile subscribers still use feature phones. So clearly the audience is there.
Early Commentary Mixed
Twitter officially announced the new mobile site only yesterday, so there hasn't been a lot of time for the blogosphere to weigh in. Early commentary so far is mixed. TechnoBuffalo gave the new site a mocking endorsement, saying Twitter has retooled it for "not so smart" feature phones, providing an ideal means for "granny to point her prehistoric mobile browser" and send tweets.
phoneArena.com is more sincere in its praise of the move, saying, "Featurephone users are people too, so we're happy to see this move." However, phoneArena.com cautions "the writing is on the wall" and predicts smartphones will continue to gain a larger share of the mobile phone market.
Twitter Makes Statement
Whether this new site mostly helps "grannies" or is of valuable service to almost half the mobile population, it most importantly makes a statement that Twitter is committed to reaching as many people as possible, through as many platforms as possible. Facebook released an app to make it accessible through feature phones last July, and Twitter is not conceding the feature phone social networking market to its largest rival. In many ways Twitter is more conducive to mobile usage than Facebook, with its simpler layout and shorter posts, and although it is unlikely Twitter will ever equal Facebook's mass appeal, clearly Twitter is not content to sit back and accept the number two spot without a fight.