It’s been a crazy 24 hours at Birdfeed HQ East (in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) and West (in Portland, Oregon). Yesterday, when we least expected it, as we enjoyed our respective lazy Sundays, the gods of the App Store saw fit to bestow their seal of approval upon the fruit of our many months of labor. Given the experiences of many iPhone devs, we were expecting a longer approval time. But there it was, an email declaring Birdfeed “Approved for Sale.”
I had intended to keep things quiet until Neven, Birdfeed’s designer, and I could finish the web site we had been working on. But I had underestimated the unstoppable memetic power of Twitter. Within the hour a few observant iPhone Twitter junkies had discovered its presence, and before long the Birdfeed marketing blitz had kicked off without us.
It wasn’t exactly the ideal way to launch a product many months in the making, but it did have certain advantages: in particular, the curiosity surrounding the app, combined with the relative dearth of information about it, stoked a good deal of conversation. After a late night of frenetic work, we finally managed to get a site up to provide the waiting public with screenshots and feature information, and interact with many early adopters directly via Twitter. Now that the basic facts have been covered, though, I wanted to take a moment to answer a few of the more philosophical questions I knew we would be getting after launch.
“Why another iPhone Twitter client?”
There’s no question that the market for iPhone Twitter clients is quite crowded. However, I would argue that there is plenty of room for new contenders.
One of the things that becomes apparent very quickly when you solicit feedback on a Twitter client is that there are many different ways of thinking about Twitter, and there are incredibly passionate advocates for all of them. Twitter’s very simplicity gives it an ability few other social networks have: it can effectively become whatever its users want it to be. For many, especially those of us who have been using Twitter since its early days, it’s primarily an ambient intimacy system we use to keep in touch with friends and family. For others, it’s a broadcasting platform for punditry or humor. For others still, it’s a forum for professional networking and business advancement. The reason Twitter is so successful is that its “concept” is big enough to encompass all of these uses, and it’s not inconsistent or uncommon for people to even own and use multiple clients suited to various purposes. I would argue that this isn’t a bad thing—it’s just a symptom of Twitter’s versatility and success, and the prodigious size of the market.
Neven and I developed Birdfeed because we have our own strongly held opinions about what we want from a Twitter client, and they don’t exactly match anything else out there. Some of this (the simple, friendly design; the embrace of iPhone-native user experience concepts; the focus on messaging and notifications) is hopefully apparent in 1.0. Some of what we want to do will take some time. We have a fairly ambitious road map, and hopefully the differentiation of our vision will only become more apparent over time.
“How can you charge $4.99 for a Twitter app?”
Artificially low App Store prices notwithstanding, developing a Twitter client for the iPhone is significantly more difficult than writing a desktop Twitter app for a variety of reasons. The severe limitations of the device mean that you have to be concerned about resource usage and performance in a way you aren’t in other modern computing environments. The slowness and inconsistent nature of the network connection means you have to be concerned with error conditions much more than on the desktop. And the constraints of the small screen mean that you have to think far more creatively about UI design and make far tougher calls about user experience.
Because of this, and because we put a lot of sweat into producing a polished, Apple-caliber application, we feel Birdfeed is worth $4.99. We know times are tight and you might be reluctant to spend the money, but consider that Birdfeed is a highly functional app you’re likely to use far more frequently than many iPhone games that cost twice as much. If you don’t agree, however, we understand and don’t begrudge you your opinion—there are plenty of other options out there.
“Why doesn’t Birdfeed have [feature]?
No software project is ever truly finished, and Birdfeed 1.0 represents only the very beginning of an ambitious road map. As Steve Jobs himself once said, “Real artists ship,” and, in my experience, the single biggest thing that separates the shippers from the non-shippers is the ruthless ability to say “No, we’re not doing that for 1.0.” It’s a tough call to make, especially in a hypercompetitive environment like the iPhone Twitter client market. But without such strategic compromises, no one would ever actually ship software.
All of that said, I believe Birdfeed actually represents a very strong 1.0 release feature-wise. Birdfeed has many features our main competitors don’t have, and many of the common features people have been asking for are very much on the roadmap—some even partly implemented in the codebase and merely awaiting that extra bit of polish and thoughtfulness we try to give every feature in Birdfeed. Keep your eye on us—this is only the beginning.