That we’re not fans of Facebook is nothing new, and that we prefer social networks like Twitter should be no surprise to anyone who’s followed our thoughts on social networking in the past. So with rumours of Facebook integration coming to iOS 6, we can’t help but feel a degree of disgust, desperately clinging to the “it’s just a rumour” perspective.
But let’s step back a moment and look at this from Apple’s perspective. Their one attempt at developing a social network is lauded by most as a failure.1 Apple later integrated Twitter in iOS, effectively confirming their disinterest in further developing a social network from scratch,2 yet acknowledging the importance and widespread use of social networks by mobile users. Why Twitter? It was the safe bet – both Google and Facebook have received negative press regarding privacy violations in the past, and Facebook is generally considered the “kids” social network, with an average user age below that of both Twitter and Google+.3
Neither of these facts has changed, but there’s more to the issue. When Apple added Twitter integration to iOS, Google+ still wasn’t mature, and there’s a good argument to be made that its future remains uncertain; Google has a history of killing off initiatives like Wave, and if Google+ doesn’t get the traction Google wants, it may yet be another Google project with the carpet pulled out from under it.
But there’s still Facebook, with its massive userbase. And while some might argue Facebook has corrected its privacy-related mistakes, there’s the bigger issue of competition at stake. Even if Google+ were more mature, Apple’s strategy seems to be on not relying on third-party services for features unless Apple can’t offer those services itself. That Steve Jobs supposedly had a vendetta against Google for revamping their Google Phone project after seeing what Apple planned in the mobile market, only adds further kindling to a story that we’re further seeing unfold. The mobile version of iPhoto, for example, already offers a mapping solution not based on Google Maps, and there’s a good point in the argument that Apple intentionally used the generic app name “Maps” for the default iOS mapping program, as the app itself would be information-agnostic insofar as which mapping provider was used; Google just happened to offer the best product available at the time, as Apple didn’t have an in-house solution ready.
Recently, we wrote about Facebook’s camera app, noting how Facebook seems to be pushing out specialized mini apps akin to how Facebook services would be distributed on the oft-rumoured Facebook phone. While it may still be unclear to some how a Facebook phone makes sense, it doesn’t really matter whether Facebook focuses on just the software, or software and hardware both; even if Facebook doesn’t plan to release a phone, they’re clearly working on an applications suite aimed at capturing a user’s attention on various levels, be it chat, picture-sharing, or “traditional” social networking. All of these activities are contrary to Apple’s goal of capturing a user’s attention on Apple’s software. Facebook Chat competes with the Messages app, Facebook Camera competes with the default Camera app (and therefore iCloud), et al.
Apple’s game is to sell their product, not Facebook’s. And that means appearing to be as app-agnostic as they can be, while still pushing their own apps into the forefront. By giving Facebook a deeper foothold into iOS, Apple is effectively endorsing a competing platform – a platform that may very well one day evolve into a phone itself, and decide to challenge the iPhone head-on.
Twitter doesn’t pose this same threat. It’s a lighter social network built around a myriad of clients, so makes a lot more sense on iOS. And Twitter has that excellent track record of not getting a lot of bad press due to poor decisions, and their first-party client is also well-made. The core Facebook app, on the other hand is nothing short of a travesty: a product that is so un-Apple in it’s current state that endorsing it would be laughable.
Of course, maybe Facebook has a polished, rock-solid app revision waiting to be unveiled at WWDC. Tim Cook’s recent comments may at least suggest that much:
For us, we want to provide customers simple and elegant ways to do the things they want to do. Facebook has hundreds of millions of customers. So, anyone that has an iPhone or iPad, we want them to have the best experience with Facebook on those platforms. So stay tuned.
The wise-ass in us might quip about this meaning Apple sent engineers to Facebook to teach the social-networking giant how to write an app that doesn’t suck, but the more popular interpretation is that direct integration with iOS 6 is on its way. That would presumably let iOS users post to Facebook directly from the Camera app, for example, and share links to Facebook from Mobile Safari. As with Twitter, users would still need to download an actual Facebook app in order to view feeds, directly chat with other Facebook users, etc. But the idea of giving Facebook even more information about your daily habits is disturbing, even if the data Facebook might glean from such integration is limited in scope.
We just don’t trust Facebook, and despite relations seemingly being good between Facebook and Apple, we wouldn’t put it past Facebook to pull a Google and attack Apple with direct competition down the road. All signs point towards Facebook’s continued expansion in the mobile space, and we doubt they’ll settle as a tag-a-long for the long haul. If there’s a lesson to be learned from Apple ditching Google Maps, it’s that relying on another party is not the most secure proposition, and so why would Facebook continue to ride the coat-tails of iOS and Android, seeing as they’re finally embracing the importance of mobile computing? But more importantly, why would Apple want to empower the young suckling that will one day seek to challenge it?
If this integration actually happens, the only answer is that Apple is either being short-sighted, else they simply don’t consider Facebook to be a viable threat to their business.4 Apple’s gain is in seeing a “posted from my iPhone” note appended to items posted/shared from iOS, and that’s effectively free advertising. Baked-in Facebook might even create more iOS converts, making Apple’s play more a play against Google than a play for Facebook.
Or there’s the simple strategy that if users can post from native iOS apps, there’s no need to spend time in Facebook’s apps other than for viewing streams. “Don’t bother launching Facebook Camera just to post a pic, use the faster native Camera app instead.” We’ll see if the gamble pays off.
At least, it’s the one attempt the public is aware of, as it was actually launched. ↩
Or one based on Ping. ↩
It’s not that older people don’t use Facebook, it’s that younger people are simply less likely to use Twitter and Google+, and they happen to make up the majority of Facebook users. ↩
Our internal wise-ass might quip something about Apple recognizing Facebook as too incompetent to get a true iPhone rival off the ground. After all, only Google’s come close enough to date, and Facebook is mostly untested in these waters. ↩