Did Twitter Just Set Fabric on Course to be the iTunes of Mobile SDKs?

Twitter is holding the 2nd edition of its one-day mobile developer conference known as Twitter Flight. The conference is taking place at the Bill Graham Auditorium in San Francisco which is within a couple blocks walking distance of Twitter's headquarters. After Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey issued a sincere apology for how the company screwed-up its now "complicated" relationship with developers, several of his fellow Twitterati took to the stage to unload a truckload of announcements geared at easing the lives of mobile developers. Among those announcements were a series of important updates to Twitter's Fabric.

In many ways, Fabric was and is Twitter's response to some of the difficulties in building and running mobile applications (including diagnostics). For mobile developers using integrated development environments (IDEs) to build apps for iOS and Android, there's a series of oft-repeated tasks and requirements that are common to the development lifecycle.  For example, building in the capability to do realtime crash reporting as crashes happen on end-user devices or adding identity management or in-app monetization capabilities. 

Regardless of whether the application is fundamentally a "Twitter app" or not, Twitter offers many of these capabilities as services so that in true API fashion, developers don't have to reinvent their own wheels. Services like Twitter's Crashlytics crash reporting service are available through APIs. Over time, Twitter has amassed a number of these services into a collection of "kits" which, when taken together with Twitter's framework for plugging them (the kits) into the various mobile app IDEs (Android Studio, Intellij, and Eclipse for Android and XCode for Apple), form the foundation of Fabric.  Compared to standalone SDKs, Fabric takes the complexity out of incorporating typical SDK functionality into the developer's environment. For example, with a single click, a kit is not only installed and ready for usage within the IDE, any friction associated with account management in order to use the underlying service is eliminated.

Looking at Twitter's page where the kits are listed, developers can see how they can optionally grab functionality for crash analytics (Crashlytics), identity management (Digits), mobile analytics (Answer.io), and in-app monetization (MoPub). Somewhat highlighting the benefits of Fabric's modularity, that page also hints at Twitter's roadmap for additional kits. For example, labeled as coming soon, kits are coming for maps, speech recognition, U/X analysis, and Livechat. However, today, at Twitter Flight, the company announced that it was extending Fabric for third party participation. The initial list of partners includes Stripe, Amazon Web Services (starting with Amazon's Cognito service for synching mobile data), Optimizely, Nuance, Appsee, GameAnalytics, Mapbox, and PubNub, the first three of which are available today and the rest of which will be released over the course of the year.

Akin to how app stores work, the move to involve third parties in Fabric ushers in a new era for Twitter whereby the framework could very likely turn into an important distribution channel for SDKs. In fact, to the extent that Fabric eliminates much of the friction associated with traditional SDK installation (and Apple did the same with music and iPods), it could eventually turn into something akin to the iTunes of SDKs.  

Suneet Shah, senior product manager at A/B testing service provider Optimizely certainly views Fabric as a major channel for developer on-boarding. Comparing Optimizely's standalone SDK to its kit for Fabric, Shah told ProgrammableWeb that the Fabric kit is significantly more accessible to developers. "Basically, with one click," Shah said, "the kit is installed and any Optimizely user account creation is automatically handled in the background." Shah believes that the reduced friction will increase the likelihood of developer experimentation with Optimizely which naturally, in turn, could lead to more revenue for the company. 

But unlike with app stores and iTunes, there are no ground rules for third party participation in Fabric just yet. When asked how the company selected the eight new partners, a company spokesperson told ProgrammableWeb "We realized that no company has the resources to build every single tool that developers that would need. We also realized that there are great tools like Optimizely and Stripe out there; tools that many of our developers like and are already using. So, given the great job those companies were doing, there was really no reason for Twitter to build those."

David Berlind is the editor-in-chief of ProgrammableWeb.com. You can reach him at david.berlind@programmableweb.com. Connect to David on Twitter at @dberlind or on LinkedIn, put him in a Google+ circle, or friend him on Facebook.