Apple Sucks At Social

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Now You’re Just Messing With Us Wikipedia

Displayed in the Dieter Rams exhibit at SF MOMA is a hand-held Braun television. Yes, an old-fashioned television with a handle on it that never saw the light of day because the Braun marketing team determined there wasn’t a market for hand-held televisions. IN THE SIXTIES.

Inspired by the work of Rams and Braun, Apple’s Steve Jobs went on to build hardware that incorporated many of the elements of Rams’ philosophy. In fact, today’s iPad seems like a streamlined descendant of that handheld television. But, unlike what happened at Braun, it doesn’t seem like many Apple products are held back from production by the Apple marketing team, at least if you look at how many Apple products are total failures initially.

The easiest example of this, and the one that everyone uses as the “Apple sucks at social” whipping boy is the iTunes-powered Ping. It seems like out of the 25 people I follow, only MC Hammer is actually engaging with the product. Hard core Apple fanboys defend Ping’s failure (and it is an uncontested failure) on its lack of Facebook integration, which Facebook pulled because of negotiation issues.

Because Apple’s best attempts at social have been integrations with other services, Facebook in iPhoto, and Twitter in iOS 5, let’s leave Ping alone for now. Who knows, maybe it would have worked out if Facebook had been involved?

Instead, let’s talk about “Find My Friends,” an app that came out of iOS 5 in October. Quite honestly this should be called “Find My Kids,” as most of the people reviewing it in the App Store are people describing this use case.

In almost two months since its launch, I’ve only had one friend ask to follow me on it, and I think that was a joke – I’m too embarrassed to ask any of my friends to follow them on it, and I can’t even think any reason to, actually.

I’m even hearing that people at Apple have been making fun of it internally. — Turns out no one really wants to Find Their Friends. Kids maybe, but you can just text your friends to find out where they are if they and you are an adult.  Reminds me of another useless social product from another company that doesn’t get it, Google Latitude.

Pro tip: If your friends are lying to you about where they are, then they’re not your friends.

It strikes me that everyone picks on Google’s social awkwardness, but not Apple’s. Sure you can argue that Apple makes social hardware not software, but iOS 5 features like iMessage (which has some user experience issues of its own) imply the grand possibilities of what happens if Apple somehow gets this kind of stuff right – namely no more $30 monthly SMS fees or endless launches of social photo sharing apps.

(Apple should just suck it up and buy Instagram, much like Google should just buy Twitter.)

The reason this is important now more than ever, is that Apple’s social stumbles are giving companies like Facebook the confidence and chutzpah to get into the mobile space, efforts that will inevitably chip away at Apple market share if executed correctly.

Proto-type FMF images via Technorotic