What does Twitter want with Cover's Android lock screen? A smarter smartphone, duh

Imagine your Twitter app immediately surfacing tweets about a nearby earthquake or disaster without you having to enter a single keyword search. Or one-step switching between Instagram and Twitter so you can see if that filtered photo of your cat received any favorites. Or a notification that brings up a favorite restaurant's Twitter account around dinnertime so you can see its daily specials. And imagine if it was all only possible because you had an Android phone.

When the news broke yesterday that Twitter bought Cover, a company that makes an Android lock screen app, the first question that hit me, was, well, why? Much like Facebook's Oculus buy, the deal doesn't make much sense at first blush. The seemingly obvious answer would be that the company plans to build a Twitter-based lock screen -- essentially a Twitter version of Facebook Home. Which, let's face it, doesn't sound like a great idea. Not only does it seem rather shortsighted for Twitter just to mimic another company's mobile efforts, but also Facebook Home wasn't exactly a resounding success. Instead, I think it's another example of Twitter's penchant for experimentation. If you combine Cover's context-aware tricks along with Twitter's desire to build a better Android experience, you could get one very intelligent Twitter app.

Much like Facebook's Oculus buy, the deal doesn't make much sense at first blush.

Twitter, as we already know, is not afraid of experiments. In a blog post published by the company last year, it states the developer and design teams constantly perform test trials in order to suss out what Twitter needs to evolve. Some efforts are more experimental than others of course, but the end goal is always to come up with a better product, be it improvements to login verification or simply a new profile page. Perhaps due to some criticism of its Android app, Twitter has been particularly keen on improving the experience on Google's mobile OS. Indeed, it launched a beta tester program for Android users back in August and then an even earlier Alpha program in November, both of which were rich ground for these so-called experiments. Results have been mixed. A major redesign seeded out to testers late last year for example, was completely scrapped partially due to poor feedback. This is where Cover comes in.

In our interview with Cover co-founder Todd Jackson last October, he was extremely bullish on Android as a platform. "We're making a huge bet on Android, that this will be the operating system that billions of users will adopt over the next several years," he said. Not only can you not customize the iPhone's lock screen to your heart's desire, he told us, but also developers simply do not have the keys to the iPhone's sensors like they would with Android.

"We're making a huge bet on Android, that this will be the operating system that billions of users will adopt over the next several years," Cover co-founder Todd Jackson said.

Tapping into those sensors is exactly how Cover differentiates itself from just an ordinary lock screen replacement. Rather than just a static list of app shortcuts, Cover utilizes the phone's internals to surface the most oft-used apps depending on your location, time of day and even whether you're in the car or on foot. If you're at home, for example, your lock screen might float Netflix and Pandora to the top, while work-related apps like email and stocks would be more prominent when you're in the office. More than just a lock screen replacement, Cover also works throughout the phone as a smarter app switcher. When you're in the email app, for example, you can easily swap out to an app like the browser or maps, because those two are the ones you'd most likely reference while typing out a letter. "We want this to be like Alt-Tab for mobile, so you can jump directly between apps lightning fast," said Jackson. You can test it out while Cover is still available from the Play Store.

I don't doubt that it's these unique quirks that won the hearts and minds at Twitter. In Cover's announcement yesterday, the newly acquired firm stated: "Twitter, like Cover, believes in the incredible potential for Android. They share our vision that smartphones can be a lot smarter -- more useful and more contextual -- and together we're going to make that happen." And who wouldn't want a smarter smartphone?