Apple hopes to stake fresh space in social media

Can Apple 'get' social networking this time, or will it create Ping 2.0?

Apple aches to develop a social networking solution people will use and is working on sharing technologies all across its iOS platforms, claims a Bloomberg report.

Social sensation

The report, which focuses on an Apple project to create a quick-&-easy video creation app a la Snapchat, holds its true gold lower in the piece, where it reveals Apple is working on “multiple social-related features for its iPhone and iPad…that are yet to be released.”

As described these consist of platform-wide feature designed to help users connect more effectively with contacts, including extension of Apple’s existing Proactive technology.

That this report appears within 24-hours of Steven Levy’s excellent report explaining Apple’s work with artificial intelligence solutions (summarized here) underlines the importance of machine intelligence to the company’s future plans.

It also makes sense in view of the company's focus on social and sharing within much of iOS 10 -- check this video again with this in mind:

Failed so far

Apple has been working to develop a successful social networking solution for years – you could argue that these attempts go all the way back to its eWorld online service, with side turns that include social elements inside iTools, .Mac, and iCloud and also encompass Bing, iPhoto Galleries and more.

None of these attempts have ever truly resonated. This means Apple at present has no direct link to a market that is becoming increasingly important to daily life. The average person has five social media accounts and spends around 1 hour and 40 minutes browsing them each day, according to a recent GWI report.

Apple users want to network with people who are on multiple platforms – even if they thrive inside it, their lives go beyond the company’s “Walled Garden”. The company has also done a consistently poor job supporting sharing in its social attempts, making it hard or impossible for users to publish what they think. I believe this was the biggest failure of Ping.

Privacy matters

What’s changing in the public consciousness is a growing understanding of the importance of privacy in our connected age.

Apple may believe that if it can protect personal privacy while delivering core socially-connected services it may be able to convince people to choose its social tools, particularly for personal, confidential and/or professional tasks.

Discussing Apple’s plans, Bloomberg reveals, “Two friends could be able to see all text messages, e-mails, and social network interactions between each other in a single window.”

How might it work?

Pure speculation on my part, but to me this sounds as if Apple may be thinking about transforming its iOS Contacts app into becoming a place for richer relationships to form.

With this in mind it’s possible to imagine a contacts listing offering up access to all the relevant images, email, video, social feeds, location and other information held about your contact on your system, gathered from across your iOS device by its built-in AI. (And kept locally, rather than stored in the cloud).

Add commenting, sharing, messaging and video chat tools and the Contacts app (or an app derived from it) becomes a destination app, rather than a system-wide resource. This could become quite powerful if used in conjunction with Notifications, and this additional granular detail could be made available across every compatible iOS app – tap a photo of a friend in Photos to send them an Emoji, for example.

Private and personal

Would such a system truly compete with existing social networks? Not really – unless those on other platforms could enjoy feature parity using compatible apps. It would, however, enable private and secure communication and sharing between people – even to the extent of sharing news pieces bought in from the News app, music from Apple Music or movie recommendations from the forthcoming Apple TV guide.

What’s critical is that privacy is built-in – Bloomberg confirms none of these tools will ship if they “could potentially expose too much user data.” This is also why the company has taken such pains in its years developing AI -- even though it is clear unfair criticism has stung the company into announcing more about its plans.

Apple’s focus on video as part of its plans may also prove interesting, as music label bosses complain at the payments they receive from YouTube. What happens if Apple creates its own streamed music video service within Apple Music? It could call it Apple Music TV.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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