Apr 7, 2014 · 5 minutes

Cover announced today that it has been acquired by Twitter. The company, which launched a context-aware lock-screen replacement for Android smartphones in October 2013, will work on Twitter's Android application. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Cover's app replaces the typical lockscreen, which usually shows the time and notifications, with a new display that offers easy access to apps based on the time or location. It will remain in the Google Play Store for the foreseeable future -- the company promises to "provide another update" if Twitter decides that maintaining the app isn't worth the effort.

The companies are said to have joined forces because both "[believe] in the incredible potential of Android" and "share [the] vision that smartphones can be a lot smarter — more useful and more contextual." The two statements are related: Android makes it easier for developers to build context-aware software than other platforms, and allows companies to create entirely new experiences instead of forcing all interactions into a single application.

It's unclear how Cover's team will assist Twitter's mobile efforts. Perhaps the company plans to add more location-aware features to its service that could display important tweets based on activity in a certain area, which would allow it to become a better real-time news source. I wrote about Twitter's potential -- and current shortcomings -- in that regard after sitting in traffic because a truck had exploded on the highway in August 2012:

Sure, the company has been working on its search results, but for the wrong reasons. Twitter is making it easier to find other users and view hashtags, not dig through the past and find pertinent information. Twitter’s iPhone app doesn’t even have any sort of “nearby Tweets” functionality (or, if it does, it’s so carefully hidden that I couldn’t find it). The company has neglected this aspect of the service, keeping this data out of users’ hands despite its utility. Is it any wonder that other services and apps work to build a better solution?


Unfortunately, the company has also failed time and time again to make that information readily available beyond the immediate moment. Perhaps Twitter exists as the next AM radio frequency. But it doesn’t matter how loudly you shout into the microphone, if all anyone hears is static. Displaying relevant information based on its users' context -- whether that is as simple as grabbing their location or as complex as considering whether or not they're at work -- would help Twitter deliver on its promise to be a global news network. That might not be the reason why Twitter acquired Cover, but it would make sense, given its attempts to keep existing users coming back to the service.

Reactions from around the Web

Engadget isn't too optimistic about Cover's (the app) chance of survival:

But, it remains to be seen, whether or not that app will continue to receive support from the team. At present, Cover has no plans to abandon its users and pull the app from Google Play. Although, it's likely that app will sunset as the team gets to work on serving up Twitter when you most expect it.
Re/code notes that Twitter has been using Android as a sandbox of sorts in recent months:
What it does suggest, however, is that the company is increasing its bet on the Android platform and is perhaps more willing to play around with the different mobile features that Android affords compared to Apple’s iOS mobile software.

In recent months, Twitter has been willing to experiment with many new features on Android, mostly for the purposes of testing and seeing what people like. (It’s also easier to push out small tests to Android rather than iOS, which has an arduous Apple approval process.) The Wall Street Journal points out both companies' focus on mobile software:

It is unclear how exactly Cover will got into Twitter’s overall strategy, but it reinforces the company’s mobile-first approach. Over 75% of Twitter users access the service through their mobile devices. As more and more apps compete for the user’s attention, Cover’s acquisition could help keep Twitter top of mind.

Cover launched in October 2013. Its blog post said it has acquired “hundreds of thousands” of users since. The Verge wonders if this might be the beginning of Twitter's take on an Android launcher like Facebook Home:

If Twitter is interested in taking over your lock screen, this acquisition would instead be the start of a far more ambitious initiative. Facebook attempted something similar last year with the launch of Facebook Home, and though it's failed to gain much traction in the time since, it's clear why Facebook gave it a shot: taking over a phone's lock screen would give it a powerful advantage by making its own content the first thing that a person sees when checking their phone.

Twitter could also try for something like this by expanding Cover's abilities beyond apps and into tweets, news, and trends. For now though, it appears that Twitter isn't interested in controlling your lock screen — it's certainly seen the lack of demand for Facebook Home, after all — but we may just see a smarter version of its Android app sometime down the road thanks to the Cover team's background in using contextual information to change what an app chooses to show you.

Pando weighs in

I wrote about another context-aware Android utility called Aviate before it was acquired by Yahoo earlier this year:

The version of the software that I tested — which differs slightly from the version being released today — failed to make that argument. Much of this was my fault, as I had previously installed various add-ons (the Nova Launcher homescreen replacement, the Holo Locker lockscreen replacement, and the Nox icon set) and currently live in an area (upstate New York) which doesn’t offer very many incentives to wander around, visit new restaurants, or travel during the week.

While this makes me a bad test subject for Aviate’s early versions, it also makes me a rare amalgamation of the two types of people Aviate was made for. The technologically-savvy side of me was frustrated by the changes Aviate made to my already-customized homescreen; the rest of me, which is currently living somewhere besides San Francisco or New York City, was just as frustrated by the software’s inability to surface useful information. I uninstalled Aviate just a few days after I was invited to try it.