Defending Smartphone Screen Real Estate

Last week Twitter released version 3.3 of their iPhone app that includes a new feature called QuickBar. QuickBar is a black bar that appears above your timeline and displays one of the currently trending topics on Twitter. Over the weekend there was a huge up roar over the upgrade, with several people that I follow on Twitter saying they are dumping the app for an alternate.
The problem, of course, is that because smartphones have a limited amount of screen space people want every pixel to be occupied providing useful information and not something they don’t want to see. I find the reaction to the Twitter QuickBar to be somewhat extreme, given that we have been living with advertising in smartphone apps for a while now.
Plume is the Twitter app that I currently use on my Nexus S. I’ve actually been using the free version, which includes an advertisement that displays at the top of the timeline. In fact, it looks to me that the ad in Plume takes up at least twice as much space as the QuickBar. A difference, however, is that the ad in Plume does not stick to the top of the screen, so as you scroll down the ad goes away.
Another difference is that if I chose to, I can buy a version of Plume that does not include advertising, which is a pretty common practice amongst Android apps. Twitter might not consider the QuickBar to be advertising, but they might consider providing a paid version of the app that enables users to turn the QuickBar off.
The irony about this situation is that competing iPhone Twitter apps are benefiting from the reaction to the QuickBar. You may recall that the iPhone Twitter app was originally known as Tweetie and was aquired by Twitter. The controversy when Twitter released their “official” app is that they were hurting the other developers of Twitter apps. What this weekend has shown is that the motivation between the official Twitter app and other apps is different, and that apps created to provide users with the best experience will succeed over apps created to promote a service.