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What to Expect at Twitter’s First Mobile Developer Conference

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After years of watching fellow Silicon Valley tech giants Facebook and Google woo app developers, Twitter's ready to jump into the fight.

That's the premise of Flight, Twitter's first mobile developer conference set to take place Wednesday in San Francisco.

What's interesting here is the conference has basically nothing to do with Twitter, the product. It's all about Twitter Inc. competing with Facebook, Google and Amazon to provide the back-end support and the tools that developers need to build mobile apps. Twitter thinks if it can do that, the relationships with developers will pay off down the road.

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There are over a million apps around the world that need technical support to stay up and running, and part of Twitter's long-term business strategy (in addition to Twitter, the product) is to provide developers with the tools needed to make money their apps and keep them from crashing.

Twitter, for example, owns MoPub, a service for mobile developers that helps them fill vacant ad space within their apps. It has little to do with Twitter's main stream but has a lot to do with Twitter's revenues.

The social network has been stocking up on developer-specific tools over the past 18 months, snagging startups like Crashlytics, which helps developers debug and test new apps. Twitter is poised to unveil new tools for developers on Wednesday as part of its push to get more third party apps using these Twitter-owned products and services.

If app developers use Crashlytics to test and debug their app, they're more likely to use MoPub to advertise on it, and vice versa. And someday, when Twitter rolls out premium, more expensive versions of these tools, existing customers will be more likely to upgrade.

Over time, these partnerships may provide other value, too, like the sharing of user data or the buying of Twitter ads.

Twitter's entering a competitive field — Facebook, Google and Amazon are all working to provide back end support for mobile apps around the world — so the tools Twitter unveils Wednesday will need to offer a better alternative than what developers can get elsewhere.

Ultimately, helping mobile developers to build new apps will ensure Twitter Inc. has more to offer than just Twitter, the service.

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Here are three things to watch for at Flight.

  • A new suite of developer services. Twitter is expected to bundle tools from Crashlytics and MoPub into a packaged suite of services for third party mobile developers, according to people familiar with Twitter's plans. The Information reported late last month that this suite will be called Fabric, and would help developers generate more mobile apps with a connection to Twitter. It could also provide another revenue stream for the company down the road. Sources familiar with Twitter's plans say that tools unveiled Wednesday will be free, but it's likely Twitter could one day charge for a premium version of the services once apps are on-boarded.

  • Twitter sign in. Millions of people use existing social accounts from Facebook or Google to create new accounts for other apps, eliminating the need to create new username and password combos. It's an important part of Facebook and Google's mobile strategy as it ensures users have a reason to keep their social accounts active, and makes it simpler for them to share data from the other app back to their social profile (e.g. an interesting article or how many calories you burned during your last workout).

    Twitter has a similar offering, but it lags well behind Facebook and Google in terms of popularity. It'll be interesting to see whether or not Twitter emphasizes sign in on Wednesday, and whether or not developers care to implement it.

  • Don't expect any new consumer products. Facebook and Google have each used their respective developer conferences to unveil major consumer products over the years, but don't expect that from Twitter. The agenda is focused on app development, and we won't see any major changes to the core Twitter product on Wednesday, according to those familiar with Twitter's plans. If Twitter tweaks sign in or announces changes to Twitter embeds, that could impact the general user experience, but don't expect a shiny new feature for your timeline this time around.

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