Twitter has recently made it perfectly clear that it does not want developers to create third party Twitter applications, as it recently snatched up TweetDeck for $40 million and gave everyone else an ultimatum. However, that hasn’t stopped UberMedia, the largest Twitter app powerhouse out there, to team up with celebrity and 6th most popular Twitter user Ashton Kutcher to get around some of Twitter’s restrictions on monetization and advertising. Enter A.plus (or A+, aplus, or A Plus. They need a lesson or two in marketing about keeping a brand name consistent across their official channels), a Twitter application that’s a joint venture between UberMedia and Ashton Kutcher. Before your roll your eyes like I did when I first heard about this, A.plus is not your average Twitter app with Ashton’s face plastered all over it. Well, it sort of is, but there’s a bit more to it.
A.plus (available at the source link below) is powered by Adobe Air, meaning it runs on both PCs and Macs. When You first launch the app it asks you to authorize your Twitter account, just like any third party Twitter service does when you sign up, such as TwitPic or Yfrog. Upon logging in you are greeted with an interface that is somewhat similar, yet quite different from your average Twitter client. Your typical Twitter timeline is in the middle of the interface, which looks no different than the timeline on any other Twitter app.
However, on the left is Ashton’s content section, where tweets from Kutcher as well as others of his choosing are displayed. Each tab has a variety of sub-channels to allow you to filter what sponsored content you see. If you just want to see Ashton’s tweets, simply click on the aplusk button in the first tab and only his timeline will be displayed. Other channel tabs focus on different categories, such as apps, sports, and more. Each tab is broken down into sub-accounts from sponsored Twitter accounts. Also in each tab are ads that promote sponsored content. This is a major workaround on Twitter’s restrictions placed on advertising within the timeline by other Twitter apps. Instead of advertising inside your timeline, UberMedia and Ashton are advertising next to your timeline. Sneaky sneaky! Unless you’re a die hard Ashton fan, you probably don’t care much about this panel. Luckily, each panel is collapsible so you can totally nuke that section from you and focus on the timeline and a really snazzy feature that is on the right of the timeline.
The LivePreview panel is the big selling point of A.plus. Whenever you click on a tweet in your timeline its content is loaded in its full webpage format in the LivePreview panel. So be it tweets, YouTube videos, pictures, or web page links, they all will load in a functional web browser within the app. There is no need to open up a new browser window or to have a separate tab or window within the app open up with a limited functionality browser. If it is a reply to you, the full conversation will be shown neatly in the LivePreview panel. And if the tweet is GeoTagged, then it will show a Google Map with the user’s location pinpointed onto it. You can set the LivePreview to pre-cache incoming tweets to make browsing through links much quicker than you would in any other Twitter client.
A DealBox button is also present in the interface allowing you to search for local coupons, Groupon and other deals right in your client. UberMedia has rolled out DealBox to its popular Android Twidroyd client so it was inevitable that it would appear again in A.plus, considering how this app is all about focusing on sponsors and advertising. Unlike links in your timeline or in the Ashton panels, links in the DealBox window open up in a new external browser window, probably to make sure that the links are fully compatible and to accommodate any SSL or security implementations the LivePreview panel can’t handle. Simply add your zip code and the deals will show up.
Since A.plus was just released, there are some limitations to the service. For example, you can’t choose what media upload service you want to use. Instead, images for example automatically upload to Lockerz. I’m not sure if the services are restricted to only those sponsored by Ashton and I don’t know if there are any plans on opening up the ability to upload media to other services, so if you prefer TwitPic or Yfrog over Lockerz, you might be disappointed. However, pulling up Twitter handles of people in your Follwer list or timeline is quite snappy with suggestions popping up the instant you hit the @ key and the first letter. Viewing people’s profiles is clean with a new window popping up, allowing you to view the person’s info, follow/unfollow, see their followers, see their timeline, etc. If you view your own profile you will see an edit button to change your basic info such as your name, location, website, and bio, but not your account handle or your profile picture.
Updates are pulled every two minutes instead of pushed instantly like other popular Twitter clients. In Seesmic, for instance, I was immediately notified of a reply the instant it happened. With A.plus, reply notifications came a little later, when the app pinged Twitter. Furthermore, there’s no way to get your timeline to auto-scroll up when new Tweets appear, so whatever the last tweet you saw in the last update was, that will be the tweet you see after Twitter is pinged for fresh content. For some, this is great because you will never miss a tweet. For others this might be an annoyance because you constantly have to scroll up.
A.plus does have some quirks and bugs in it which should be ironed out in future versions. Sometimes the interface freezes up as it does for me when I want to cancel a tweet that I’ve started writing. Also for some reason the app won’t quit unless I completely close the window and then choose Quit from the menu bar. Don’t let that deter you from trying it out, even if you want nothing to do with Ashton Kutcher. The LivePreview panel is definitely a great convenience that other Twitter apps lack when it comes to its depth and usability. Hopefully in time A.plus will be fleshed out to accommodate other third party media services and hopefully UberMedia will expand its LivePreview feature to the rest of its Twitter app family. For now I’m neither giving it a Pass nor a Fail. It’s a work in progress with some interesting ideas and it is for those interesting ideas that it should not be ignored.