Richard Waters An experiment in mobile tweets falls flat

In a world awash with smartphones, why would anyone want a mobile gadget that did only one thing?

Perhaps if it did that one thing really, really well – and if that thing was central to your life – there might be a case for it.

There may indeed be die-hard addicts out there who require a permanent, dedicated connection to Twitter, though I’m certainly not one of them. But if those people exist, they will certainly want something better than the TwitterPeek to get their fix.

This Twitter-only device leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it is the pricing model. It’s based on the Kindle approach: $199 buys both the device and lifetime connectivity (alas, that’s the device’s lifetime, not yours, and I wouldn’t bet on this one being in your pocket or handbag for many years). An alternative $99 price point includes only the first six months of service.

Making the cost of connectivity invisible by bundling it with hardware or content is a nice way to package a mobile device, and could yield some interesting innovations in future.

But with the TwitterPeek, this doesn’t make up for what is a pretty poor experience.

Think of this as a cut-price version of an early BlackBerry. The scroll wheel is hard to move: it feels as though half an hour’s use would rub most of the skin off your thumb. The keyboard is heavy and unresponsive. Also, the basic text-only presentation robs Twitter of much of its personality.

There are precious few grace notes – the device issues a few short vibrations when it powers up, and the blue bird flutters its wings when you send a tweet, but that’s about it.

Nor does it make it very easy to follow the links in others people’s tweets, which are probably the most valuable thing about Twitter. In turning these Web pages into plain text it can draw in multiple different elements that make the text hard to follow: a link to a story in the Washington Post, for instance, brings up parts of the site’s policy on accepting comments, the headline from a graphic and an “about this story” section before showing the actual story.

As the world moves to multi-purpose smartphones, there may still be a case for single-function gadgets. But they will have to be a lot better than TwitterPeek to stand a chance.