One of the announcements from Apple's recent Worldwide Developers Conference that drew the most attention, was that the Apple was going to integrate Facebook into its new mobile operating system (iOS 6) in a big way. While this is a big win for Facebook and a nuisance to Google, it's a deal that could also end up backfiring for Apple.
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All Facebook, All the Time
Overuse of smartphones, like the iPhone, and overuse of social media outlets, like Facebook, seem to be co-enabling addictions and Apple is going to make it even easier for iPhone, iPad and Mac users to get their Facebook fix.
With the release of new operating systems, users will have only one sign-in and then the ability to quickly post, share or "like" through a variety of apps, including the Safari browser. This integration will also work in both directions; events in Facebook's calendar and the birthdays of Facebook friends will show up in the iPhone's calendar, and updates to Facebook friends' contact info will show up in the contact list, as well.
The Facebook integration also extends to Apple's App Store and iTunes; users can "like" apps, songs or movies and see those that their friends have liked.
A Win for Facebook, a Nuisance for Google
This is a solid win for Facebook. Since the company is now public, pleasing analysts and showing growth in users and the usage rate is of major importance. By tying its service so deeply into the iPhone, it will be a lot easier for Facebook users to access those services, and that should improve usage.
This could also be a boost to Facebook's efforts to build "sponsored stories" and more targeted advertising. With the integration of the App Store and iTunes, there should be more opportunity (and more incentive) for developers to try to advertise through Facebook and harness the potential of liking apps or downloads and seeing those that others have liked. How Facebook intends on getting a cut of sales reaped through the App Store or iTunes like-derived sales is uncertain, but the advertising potential could be real.
This deal is also valuable as an endorsement. The companies tried this once before, reportedly with iOS 4, but the talks broke down. It's not as though Facebook is an obscure site that needs the support of Apple to drive eyeballs, but sites fight tooth and nail to make their sites stickier and this deal should help.
This announcement is a negative for Google, but time will tell just how significant of a negative. Apple and Google were never going to work together on social media, and Google+ is weak enough on its own. This does increase the probability that users will use Facebook more and Google less, which could be a threat to some of Google's ad revenue, and it also does raise the possibility that Facebook will become a more desirable location for those targeted ads that bring proportionately more revenue.
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Is Apple Risking Backlash?
It's not hard to see what Facebook stands to gain from this, but it's not as immediately obvious how Apple will benefit. Certainly it is possible that Apple believes that this will inspire Facebook users to use iPhones, in favor of those from Samsung or Nokia that don't have the same integration. There's also the possibility that the ability to "like" apps, songs and movies will lead to more purchases.
On the flip side, there are some definite risks. With the potential of Facebook being "always on," it's a wonder whether this integration is introducing security risks for the famously secure Apple family of products. Given Apple's notorious (if exaggerated) concern over security, it may be hard to believe that Apple hasn't already considered this and taken appropriate measures, but it's still a question worth asking.
A bigger concern is that Apple also runs the risk of bogging down its own users. Oversharing is already a problem for some people on Facebook and the greater ease of use with this integration is only going to make that easier. Sooner or later, somebody's going to share a photo, website or conversation that they didn't mean to, and then the problems could start. Apple has gone down this route before with the integration of Twitter into iOS 5, but Twitter doesn't offer quite the same temptation for oversharing.
Along similar lines, will users really want to have iPhone features, like contacts, cluttered by their Facebook pseudo-friends? It sounds as though a lot of the integration features can be turned off by the user, but some will object that they have to do even that much.
The Bottom Line
This deal will almost certainly stoke stories on how Apple should, or is preparing to, buy Facebook. Apple already has excellent margins all on its own and ad-driven revenue doesn't seem to be the sort of model that Apple prefers. Moreover, the nature of Facebook as a user-directed experience seems to run counter to Apple's corporate instincts of anticipating, and then imposing, the user experience.
There's virtually no risk to Facebook in this deal, unless users decide they've finally reached the point of over-saturation and just tire of the experience altogether. While there might be some risk to Apple from annoyed users, the opportunity to annoy Google and possibly increase throughput in the AppStore and iTunes is worth the shot.