Apple Could Copy Twitter But It Won’t, and Here’s Why


Blogger and entrepreneur Anil Dash mused Wednesday in a blog post that Apple could make Twitter, or at least a roughly similar service that provides real-time cross-platform messaging. He points out some barriers standing in the way of Apple achieving such a goal, but a bigger one comes to mind: Apple likely isn’t interested in making something even remotely like Twitter.

Unlike Google, Apple hasn’t expressed much interest in competing in the social media arena with the likes of Facebook and Twitter. It has stuck its toe in the water with services like the Ping social music network built into iTunes, and the Game Center achievement tracker and leaderboard that ships with iOS, but these efforts have largely been met with lukewarm response from both the media and users.

Not to mention that Ping and Game Center represent very specific approaches to social media that share little in common with the likes of Twitter. Namely, both are designed to fuel sales, and do little else besides. In other words, Ping and Game Center are marketing efforts first, and social tools second. Twitter, on the other hand, is a social network in search of a successful and sustainable business model. Apple isn’t interested in creating something first, and then finding a way to make it profitable later. Consider that Jobs took the idea of the mouse from the Xerox PARC research collective and remade it based on the concept of turning it into something that would sell and make money.

With that in mind, isn’t it then conceivable that Apple could take the idea of Twitter or real-time messaging and make it a profitable asset? Possibly, but probably not. Dash describes a team within Apple building a messaging service complete with “first-rate native clients on every important platform.” Apple, unfortunately, has never been interested in any platform other than its own. Even when it does branch out, as with iTunes, the ultimate goal is to drive sales of its own iOS or iPod devices. Plus, as most Windows users will tell you, the iTunes experience on that platform is far from “first-rate.”

In fact, the very virtues that make Twitter a valuable asset to users are traits which Apple has shown a reluctance to embrace: Twitter is web-based, which Ping (and even probably the iTunes store) should be but isn’t; Twitter, while not necessarily “open,” is still a lot more open than Apple tends to be, and Dash’s request for a lightweight API for developers to build web apps wouldn’t fly with Apple’s walled garden approach.

In the end, it adds to a paradox, in that if Apple were to make Twitter, it would probably look a lot like Ping (i.e., inextricably tied to Apple product and baldly promotional in nature), which means it would lose a lot of its value to users, which means it wouldn’t be Twitter. And ultimately, Apple knows where its core strengths lie, and which is in providing the tools that others depend upon to build networks, and not in building them itself.

Can Apple make a Twitter? It is technically capable of doing so, yes. But the company’s institutional culture make the chances of it ever doing so very slim indeed.

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