17 September 2009

Apple's social networking strategy?



Walt Mossberg writes a review of the latest version of iTunes ("Number 9"..."Number 9"...) in today's Wall Street Journal.   Like most of his reviews, it's fairly in-depth and useful. One throwaway line in the article struck me, though:

A small touch of social networking, not exactly Apple's historic strength, has been added to iTunes.
'[S]ocial networking, not exactly Apple's historic strength', indeed. Apple is not a leader in this segment, and generally doesn't have a strong strategy in this area.

Social networking started out with things like chat and Instant Messaging...and surely, Apple did offer things like iChat, but only within its usual proprietary mold. Social networking is inside the tornado right now, but whatever emerges from that whirlwind is going to be vastly important to computing within human society. So what's Apple to do? Do they have a real strategy here?

One possibility is that Apple's strategy is similar to what it is for music, where they are transforming into a storefront, publishing, and device vendor. They have an app store full of social networking applications developed by third parties. But this possibility doesn't really address social networking head-on or integrate it into Apple's fabric.

Another possibility is a continuation of their slow app-by-app integration strategy. E.g., iPhoto integrated with Facebooak and Flickr, iTunes Store integrated with Bebo,  and now iTunes integrates with Facebook and Twitter.  This seems likely given Apple's history here.  Since Apple's rather late to the game to build its own social networking to link its apps into, then linking to the existing social vendors makes sense here.

Or is there something bigger on the horizon for Apple? Remember the rumors of Apple acquiring Twitter? (Ah, but Apple is probably the subject of more acquisition rumors than anyone but Google and Microsoft...) But surely if Apple's in the social networking mood, an acquisition is the only logical path for them to follow; a late entry into that market would be exceeding difficult,