The latest version of Apple‘s mobile operating system, iOS 4.3, has a hidden “find my friends” feature, MacRumors has found.The obvious interpretation is that Apple is building a location-based social network to compete with Foursquare, Google’s Latitude, Facebook Places and the myriad startups in the red-hot mobile social space.
Apple’s forays into social networking seem to be vertical, like Ping for music and GameCenter for gaming. Maybe location is a “vertical” as well, but if so it’s a pretty big vertical. And Apple seems to have a similar blind spot to “social” that Google has: Ping looks like a flop.
What’s more, mobile social networks like Foursquare and Facebook Places work because they’re cross-platform. You don’t need your friends to have an iPhone to connect with them — yet somehow, we doubt Apple will make an Android version of whatever it is they’re cooking up.
The new feature is connected to MobileMe, Apple’s online services service which is largely lagging behind the competition. Steve Jobs wrote in an email to a customer that MobileMe will “get a lot better in 2011.”
If the new MobileMe comes with a mobile social network, that’ll certainly be something worth paying attention to.