Twitter App Sets Browsers Back 10 Versions

Screen shot of a web page as seen in the Twitter app, with a menu showing the option to open in the user’s default web browser.

The title of this post may be a bit of hyperbole for some, but it is completely true for me.

Sometime over the course of the last week Twitter changed what happens when I tap links in the native Twitter app on Android. Links now open within an embedded browser, not in my default browser.

I have Chrome 40 installed on my Android phone. The built-in web view on my phone is 10 releases back, at Chrome 30. Normally this isn’t a concern of mine, but when a good deal of my Twitter timeline consists of bleeding edge web development techniques, I want to view those on a current release of Chrome.

The first image shows that the user agent string within the Twitter app includes Chrome 30. The second image shows my default browser user agent string is Chrome 40.

This change appeared while I was traveling internationally, which means I had a slower connection than usual as well as a data cap. Not only do I have to view content in an old browser, I have to know that the web view is older so that I then know to open it in my default browser.

That’s at least two more taps, plus the burden of the download starting in the web view that I don’t want. That extra download burden also impacts my data cap, which is an even bigger issue if I have chosen to surf with Opera Mini to make the most of my limited data cap (you know, data budgeting).

Not only did I never enable this feature, I cannot disable it. It appeared three weeks after my last Twitter app update (see the caption below).

The first image shows the settings screen in the Android Twitter app, version 5.48.0. You can see there is no option to disable the in-app browser, though it has been enabled. The second image is the note in the Google Play store that tells me the only change in the new release is updated profiles so it’s easier to view bios, Tweets and photos. The final image shows the option to disable the in-app browser, but only because I updated to version 5.51.0 (when I returned from home and shed my data cap).

So What?

A couple months ago Peter-Paul Koch wrote about the massive fragmentation in the world of Chrome (Chrome continues to fall apart at brisk pace), something to which Twitter is now contributing en masse.

In the modern world of rapidly updating browsers, 10 releases may not seem like a big deal. I guess it comes down to what you want to see, or more importantly, what you want your users to see. Can I Use provides a quick way to compare Chrome 30 and Chrome 40 to see which features you may be missing. Here’s a short list:

If you rely on any of these (or many other) features of the open web platform, and you receive traffic from Twitter, I suggest you monitor your logs to see if the most common version of Chrome drops.

As for user experience, If you plan to allow users to toggle a new “feature,” don’t push that feature to them without the toggle. Especially when you exclude it from your update notes within the app store.

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