Blog Post

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 (s aapl) 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(s goog), 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.

5 Responses to “Apple Could Copy Twitter But It Won’t, and Here’s Why”

  1. ItsDaPoleece

    This article and perspective is fundamentally flawed. It is assuming Apple would add a profitable social media element to an existing free service (iTunes) while testing the company’s untested social networking business model. Wouldn’t it make more sense instead to go in the complete opposite direction? To add a free social networking element to a product which makes Apple a tremendous amount of profit (the iPhone), thus generating even more sales of that item?

    This may sound ridiculous, but the best way for Apple to tiptoe into the social media market is by copying Blackberry’s BBM service. If all iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches shipped with iProduct Exclusive Messaging, hoards of people would instantly live on it. With the power of All iProduct Owners at your fingertips, it would have the potential to compete with Yahoo! Answers (especially on a local scale), Craigslist, Foursquare, and Twitter all in one fell swoop. A company-wide messaging/media service is exactly what all tech-industry giants are missing. And for a business like Apple, run solely on providing fully compatible and integrated media technology every step of the way, this is the -only- logical step to take into the social media market. With chatting, check-ins, checkouts, and Apple User Omniscience, I don’t see how this could fail. And for once, luckily for Apple, there isn’t yet an app for that.

    My name is Zach, and yes, I’m a genius.

  2. LOL at Xio comment below. Touche indeed.
    The last thing we need is another social medium to confuse us!
    Thanks for sharing – now I am off to tweet this, on the real twitter.

    On another note, why can’t iTunes take something and not screw it right up (read any type of music you ever add to a library)

  3. Twitter doesn’t quite fit the Apple brand because Apple has always been a multimedia company. Even when Jobs was demoing email on the NeXT he was showing it off as a way to send voice mails. If Apple were to do anything it would be much more like Facebook (but cleaner looking), a real full experience that takes advantage of their hardware. Although I’ve noticed that Apple doesn’t go out of their way to promote user generated content as its own platform.