Facebook Deal Shows Apple's Ad Hoc Social Strategy

ios 6 Facebook integration

Photo: Apple

At Apple’s WWDC event, the company announced very deep Facebook integration into iOS 6.Among other features, users will have to sign into Facebook only once to share information from apps across the platform. Users will be able to post photos to Facebook from within the Camera and Photos app, will be able to update their location from within the Maps app, and will see Facebook events on their iPhone calendars.

It’s similar to the Twitter integration introduced with iOS last fall.

This will certainly be good for Facebook: Twitter’s integration into iOS 5 enhanced their signups by 3X.

Facebook is more popular than Twitter was, so it’s likely that most iPhone users are already on Facebook. Still, the integration should increase iPhone users’ engagement with the service.

The deal also says a lot about Apple’s social strategy.

At the recent D10 conference, Tim Cook has said that Apple must be social and acknowledged that Apple’s music-focused social network Ping, integrated into iTunes, had gone down like a lead balloon. Ping will probably be deemphasized, if not retired.

On the other hand, at WWDC yesterday, Apple also talked up its gaming-focused social network Game centre.

A positively core tenet of Apple’s strategy, also reemphasized by Tim Cook, is the need to own the core technologies of its product. In this era, social certainly seems “core” to computing (Google certainly thinks so). So either Apple believes social is not core, or it believes that it cannot do social and win. (For example, Apple does not and has never built its own CPUs, even though they are certainly “core” to the Mac. But when it had the opportunity to build its own CPUs for its iDevices, it did so.)

It seems to be that Apple’s social strategy is to build social services into verticals that are important to its platform (games, music), but partner with other companies to embed social features horizontally into its products. It’s an ad hoc strategy that depends on circumstances.

It seems odd for Apple, which usually seeks to own and control the most important aspects of the user experience, but it’s probably the right strategy. Apple can’t compete with Facebook directly, and it knows it. At the same time, it must build social integration into its products to stay competitive. And it needs to keep dabbling in social to build some expertise and perhaps even valuable services.

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