There’s been a lot of flirting going on in recent months between Apple and Facebook. In February, Apple CEO Tim Cook told a group of investors that Facebook was “the one company that is closest to being like Apple”. Last week, Apple did a big App Store promotion for Facebook’s new Camera app, and clearly knew about it well beforehand. Then, of course, there were Cook’s comments at the D10 conference earlier this week. “Facebook is a great company.” “And the relationship is solid.” Not to mention the ever-provocative “stay tuned.”
Now the two sides appear on the brink of formalizing the relationship. After much speculation, Facebook integration will indeed be baked into the latest version of iOS, we’ve learned.
Following Cook’s most recent comments, there was much speculation about this finally happening. After all, Facebook integration did appear in an unreleased build of iOS 4 a couple years ago. But much like the Facebook/Ping integration, this fell by the wayside and Apple instead went with Twitter as the main third-party authentication and sharing service in iOS 5.
To be clear, Twitter will still very much be a part of the new iOS (presumably named “iOS 6″ and codenamed “Sundance“), and that company will be holding sessions at WWDC to chat more about the continued partnership (including the integration into the forthcoming OS X Mountain Lion). But Facebook integration will be very important for iOS — tons of apps use Facebook for sign-ups and authentication (many use Facebook as the only way to do this, to the dismay of some). Apple was undoubtedly watching this activity and realized that it was time to formally bring Facebook on board.
This is also a huge win for Facebook, which until now has relied on the sort of clunky Single Sign On technique in iOS where you click a connect button in an app and get fast-app-switched into the Facebook app to authorize permissions. Once you do this, you’re fast-app-switched back into the original app. Other apps still use the old HTML pop-up for Facebook authentication. Needless to say, Facebook being built right into iOS will provide a more seamless way to handle this — see the Twitter integration for an example of how it should work now — or Facebook’s clever cross-app way of doing it.
It’s important to note that Apple being Apple, something could change in the next week and a half (see again: Facebook/Ping). But as of right now, Facebook is a go in iOS “Sundance”. One thing still being hammered out according to our sources is exactly how sharing will work. Sharing is the other big part of the iOS/Twitter integration, and will be important for iOS/Facebook integration as well. But Facebook is significantly more complicated than Twitter in that there are all kinds of permissions for what you can post where and who can see what. And Open Graph adds another layer of complexity to all of this.
My guess is that Apple will keep things simple with at least the initial Facebook/iOS integration. Beyond authentication, there will probably be a Facebook button in the existing share screen which will allow you to share something to your Facebook Wall. I doubt there will be much done with Open Graph and auto-sharing, but I could be wrong. It remains an open question as to how a Facebook iOS SDK might play with the existing Facebook SDKs if an app still does want access to more robust sharing features. All of this is the reason Apple previews iOS to developers before releasing it.
One Apple product that won’t be graced with Facebook’s presence just yet: OS X Mountain Lion. Again, Twitter integration is coming, but Apple is going to take the Facebook integration one step at a time — which means iOS, for now.
Also not coming anytime soon/probably ever: Google+/iOS integration. Just wanted to make that clear.