The sordid tale of Falcon Pro, Twitter’s token limits and Android piracy

Daniel Bader

February 26, 2013 10:03pm

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A terrible tale of an imperilled community has been writing its own conclusion over the past few days, likely signalling the beginning of the end for third-party Twitter clients.

Falcon Pro, a Twitter app developed by Joaquim Vergès, has become a victim of its own success. Twitter recently implemented a cap of 100,000 “tokens” per new third-party Twitter application, or double the number of users for existing Twitter apps with user bases above 100k. This has onstensibly cut off any chance at sustained revenue growth for developers looking to emulate the core Twitter experience. Tweetro for Windows 8 solved this by releasing a $9.99 version of its app when the free version reached the 100,000 token limit shortly after the release of Windows 8.

But what is a token? At face value, every time a user logs into a new Twitter app, it engages a token. Logging out and back in does not remove and reinstate the token, nor does logging onto the same app from multiple devices — for example, Twitter for iOS uses the same token per account on both iPhone and iPad.

Falcon Pro reached the 100,000 token limit this past weekend, cutting off access to new users; anyone who doesn’t already have a token for the app will be met with an error message when logging in. Vergès has the option of resetting his cache, which will work to force everyone to sign back into Falcon across all devices. But he doesn’t want to have to do this; ideally, he’d like to continue selling Falcon Pro to new users so he can earn a decent living from Android app development.

On a recent Google+ Hangout between the developers of several popular Android Twitter apps, Falcon Pro, Carbon for Twitter, Tweetings and Tweedle, Vergès expressed his anguish at the still-rampant piracy problem on the platform. Of the 100,000 tokens used, he says, only 40,000 were taken by paid users. The others were a combination of refunded apps and pirated versions of Falcon Pro. He says that, even on the latest versions of Android, it is incredibly easy to use on-device tools to strip the licensing from a paid .APK file, repackage and install it.

Android piracy is tarnishing the Play Store brand and is forcing developers to use invasive methods of licensing enforcement, such as doing a server-side check every time the app opens. Without an internet connection, the check will fail and the app will not open. This was an issue for me when I went travelling in early 2012, as I had neglected to open each app and game I wanted to use prior to leaving Canada. Vergès said he doesn’t want to implement such a check, but may be forced to play cat and mouse with the various hacking tools for a while to be able to sell his app again.

While this may be the end of Falcon Pro in its current state, it’s not going to be the end of stories around Android piracy ruining the party for the rest of us. Pirates are more often than not users who would never have purchased the software in the first place, but in this instance they are using up resources that are not monetary.

Twitter doesn’t look like it’s going to reverse its token distribution decision any time soon — Vergès wrote on his Twitter account today, “Twitter emailed me. They refuse to extend the token limit because Falcon doesn’t provide any features that their app doesn’t have already…” This means that if developers want to continue to create great third-party Twitter apps, they’re going to have to charge more and, ideally, get in front of piracy. Google will need to work on the latter part, too, but there’s only so many ways to plug a sieve.

  • tjhrulz

    note is 40,000 active installs, the piracy rate is nowhere as high as you say it is. 50,000 people may have bought and refunded and thus still have the token my guess is the piracy rate is around 10%

    • seroevo

      Based on what exactly? Some games (or rather, developers of some games) have reported piracy rates as high as 90%.

      Even if the overall average is 10% that doesn’t mean specific apps can’t see higher rates.

  • Rich

    Dear MobileSyrup, fix your commenting system as it occasionally deletes messages (no, they aren’t trolling posts).

    • monsterduc1000

      It would be nice if you put in an edit option as well.

  • seroevo

    “They refuse to extend the token limit because Falcon doesn’t provide any features that their app doesn’t have already.”

    It’s unfortunate that a vastly improved UI is not considered a feature. I haven’t used the official Twitter app in months but after first using Falcon Pro for only a few minutes the official app was frustrating to use in comparison.

  • Kevin

    A real shame that other users are not able to take advantage of such a great Twitter app. There are others that are somewhat usable but few come close in beauty and functionality.

  • MattyMattMatt

    I find piracy to be really inconvenient on phones. On PC however, it is often the only way to play a game you bought. Heres looking at you UPlay.

  • wewewi

    Piracy is one thing;

    Supporting third-party devs complains because they can’t make as much money as they would like out of a social network owned by a private corporation is another.

  • James

    How f***en cheap can people be. The app cost a bit over $1. I paid for the app and was well worth it.

    • migo

      Moreso, the official twitter app is free, it’s not as as if this program is the only way to do something

  • locustal

    Twitter is for self involved as sholes anyways. If you use twitter you’re a waste of life.

    • wtv

      And you’re obviously a moron.

  • Pahech

    I refuse to use twitter. This is especially after they pretty much crapped all over the developers that helped made it more popular.

  • Stuntman

    Let’s say that somehow the piracy problem is solved. Will this developer be happy with another 50,000 or so users? Will he be satisfied with zero growth once he hits 100,000 users and move one to something else? If you have a very good app with no piracy, there is still this limit that Twitter imposes. Developers, Twitter and Google may not be able to do much more than control piracy, but Twitter can certainly do something about not limiting innovative apps that people choose to use instead of the native app.

  • mmathieum

    Piracy ?
    40.000 paid download doesn’t mean only 40.000 install.
    I have paid for Falcon Pro and it’s installed on my phone, my 7″ tablet and my 10″ tablet.
    And since the app is popular among Android fan boys because it’s very well made and following Android design guidelines, I bet that most Falcon Pro users have installed it on multiple Android devices.

  • Nelz

    Mathieu, you didn’t read:
    “Logging out and back in does not remove and reinstate the token, nor does logging onto the same app from multiple devices — for example, Twitter for iOS uses the same token per account on both iPhone and iPad.”

  • hi

    How is this a piracy problem and not a “Twitter is stopping new entrants with a login token cap” problem?

  • Amos

    These clever twitter client developers are in the best position to band together and implement OStatus/XMPP/etc. alternative functionality along-side twitter support in their clients. People need a functional alternative to twitter that can still interoperate with it (at least until it loses relevancy.)

    • lmy

      this, holy god this

  • daveloft

    Between refunds and people sharing Google accounts to buy once and install on multiple devices I’m fairly certain it hasn’t been pirated 60,000 times. No way to know for sure, but likely most of that 60,000 was piracy.

    @mobilesyrup why you calling out Android as if piracy only exists on one platform?

    Piracy is just as rampant on PC, Mac and iOS. There’s actually an article on the Verge today about piracy issues with Tweetbot on iOS and how Tapbot deals with it. Unfortunately it doesn’t come with any numbers.

    The stats I’ve seen show that about 10% of the user base pirates. But because they pirate 10x more than the average person buys it causes a higher piracy rate.

    When I see huge piracy rates of 50-90% it never surprises me. It’s a part of software development and it’s not going away. It usually doesn’t effect a product, it’s just often the scapegoat when a product sells badly.

    It’s unfortunate with this case that it affects paying users because of Twitters stupid token limit.

  • Telusdoesnotcare

    Hahahahaha, privacy problem on Android huh?

    That’s what you get for choosing Android! iOS and WP don’t have such big piracy problems.

  • alamarco

    daveloft is correct. Tweetbot on iOS also has a piracy issue, so it’s not just Android. I’m sure iOS piracy has weakened with the loss of a certain well known installation application, but it hasn’t stopped piracy.

    Twitter is really only going to hurt themselves. They obviously want people using their application, but most people find the official application to be cumbersome. It’s tedious to use and many aspects of Twitter are hidden deep within as they want to force you to use Twitter in certain ways. Lists are hard to access, the connections provides way too much when we just want simple DM’s/mentions, etc.

    I believe once more and more 3rd party clients hit the 100K token limit and more and more 3rd party developers give up Twitter will lose a lot of it’s users. While I’m sure there will still remain a significant amount of users, I believe core users will leave to other services because the official Twitter application just doesn’t cut it.