Twitter Expands Influence With The Help Of Feature Phones

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

Follow on: Google +

Putting simplified Twitter services on cheaper phones helps the company add users

Twitter has been partnering with wireless network operators outside the US and Europe, in order to offer a free service on feature phones and help the platform attract new users, as its growth in developed countries is slowing down.

Such a deal helped the company triple its user base in Turkey, while also earning additional revenue for network operator Turkcell. Analysts see this expansion as a sign that the company is preparing for a long-rumoured Initial Public Offering (IPO).

The feature future

In some markets, mobile phone users are able to tweet for free, or at a cost of a text message, thanks to deals negotiated by Twitter. This trend is especially visible in Asia, South America and the Middle East, where the majority of consumers still use feature phones.

As far as growing the user base goes, this approach has been proven to work. According to Bloomberg, the company recently partnered with Turkish operator Turkcell, which helped it triple its user base in the country. And since Twitter users consume data when clicking on photos and links, Turkcell also earns additional revenue, so everybody wins.

Twitter has also started a drive to create simpler, more accessible apps for smaller screens. The challenge here is the fact that feature phones don’t have universal app stores, the way Android and iOS do. So in order to get their software on these less-capable mobile devices, Twitter has to talk directly to manufacturers and operators.

“We need to deliver a more compelling product for low-end devices,” Twitter CEO Dick Costolo told Bloomberg.

In July 2012, Twitter vice president of business development and platform relations Jana Messerschmidt arranged a meeting with Nokia, in which she negotiated a deal to get the app on the Asha handsets. Last week, Nokia surprised investors by announcing that this budget line of feature phones has outsold the hi-end Lumia range two to one, with shipments of 6.5 million units in the third quarter of 2012.

As a result of the collaboration between the two companies, Nokia has delivered a Twitter  app “perfectly tailored for consumers in fast-growth markets who are often cost-constrained but still want to have fun, new mobile experiences,” Seppo Aaltonen, head of mobile phone strategy at Nokia, told Bloomberg.

The company has already partnered with around 250 operators in over 100 countries, including India, Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines.

The aggressive expansion could suggest Twitter is finally getting ready to go public. Earlier this year, financial analytics firm Greencrest estimated that the IPO could value the microblogging platform at around $11 billion (£6.8bn).

What do you know about Tech stocks and shares? Take our quiz!