Apple's new iOS platform offered at least one surprise feature--integration with Twitter's microblogging platform. An interesting move, and one that has us wondering why not Facebook, instead?
Facebook and Twitter are two giants in the social networking market. Their reach is far and wide. Facebook just recently hit the 800 million users mark. Twitter has somewhere north of 200 million accounts, though the number of active users varies widely depending on whose metrics you choose to believe. Either way, that's a lot of people.
Facebook, however, has obviously been a bigger hit with more people. With four times the number of Twitter's users, it is a juggernaut. It has become so important so quickly, that Apple's rival, Microsoft, integrated Facebook deep into its Windows Phone 7 platform. Microsoft's adaptation of Facebook is masterful, though a bit limited. It merges with the People Hub, and makes tasks such as sharing and viewing photos a breeze.
Google's Android platform, too, takes Facebook seriously. Facebook contacts can be fully integrated into the native Android contacts application, including contact details and shortcuts for reaching out to those people via phone, email, and SMS. Research In Motion has also done a commendable job of merging Facebook's features with the strengths of its own BlackBerry platform.
Choosing Facebook, given its import, seems like the obvious choice for Apple to make. Yet, it didn't.
Instead, Apple picked the (some might say) lesser of the two social networking giants. It will use Twitter's xAuth protocol and blend it into the operating system. This gives users a universal sign-in, and the ability to fire off tweets from within a subset of applications (Safari, YouTube, Google Maps, camera/photo gallery).
As a certified Twitter addict, I am pleased with this news, and in the initial time I've spent with iOS 5 beta 1, the Twitter integration feels natural and reduces the number of steps necessary to send certain types of tweets.
Twitter, obviously, is happy about the decision. In a blog post published earlier this week, it said, "Developers of all of your favorite apps can easily take advantage of the single sign-on capability, letting you tweet directly from their apps too. Building Twitter into iOS 5 truly creates the easiest way to share everything that's happening in your world. Take a picture, tap 'Tweet'. Tweeting has never been simpler." A huge win for Twitter, no doubt.
But why not Facebook?
Think of how powerful Facebook and iOS could be if some of Facebook's messaging features were smoothly integrated with iOS's. Take the new iMessage, for example, and add support for Facebook's IM protocol and voila, good stuff. Same with the camera for sharing photos, or the browser for sharing links, or the contact app for sharing contact data.
One guess could be the bad taste left in Facebook's mouth when Apple launched Ping. When Ping (Apple's iTunes-based social networking service) first launched, it featured Facebook integration. Apparently, Facebook and Apple hadn't worked out the details, because in a day or two, Facebook integration was pulled from Ping. It hasn't yet returned. Have the two companies been unable to get past this old wound? Possibly.
Another, more remote, possibility is that Facebook is still trying to determine how best to navigate its future in the mobile market. It worked with HTC to build Facebook functionality directly into several HTC Android-based handsets. It has worked with INQ to create a mobile phone that rotates entirely around the Facebook experience. Facebook could have real ideas that it wants to pursue in the mobile landscape outside of simply being integrated into another company's platform.
Time, of course, is another factor to consider. Perhaps the two have already struck an agreement, and the feature/integration isn't far enough along to make public.
More likely is that the two are still having discussions about how best to integrate Facebook into iOS. Surely, Apple doesn't want to give up too much of its own control over how iOS operates, and Facebook wants to be sure it is given equal--if not better--footing that its social networking competitors.
They can't ignore one another, at least not for long. Users will demand it, eventually.
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