Buying Twitter might help Apple figure out how the internet works

Twitter browser

A former Apple engineer is the latest to argue that the giant consumer-electronics company he used to work for should acquire Twitter, an argument that has been made a number of times in the past year or so. But Patrick Gibson — who worked on the original iPad — isn’t saying that Apple should buy Twitter just so it can make its apps and services more social: he thinks Apple needs to acquire it because the company lacks the ability to understand or design web-based services that actually work. Could Twitter fill the holes in Apple’s DNA when it comes to the internet?

The case against Apple isn’t difficult to make, as even die-hard Apple lovers will admit if you speak in a whisper or ask them after they’ve had a few drinks. As Gibson notes, there is the ongoing usability train wreck that is iTunes, which even long-time Apple users find has a habit of suddenly deleting music and other content with no warning and is actively user-hostile. Then there are social elements such as Ping and Game Center, which are virtual ghost towns (Ping was recently euthanized) and the grand-daddy of them all — the beast previously known as .Mac and MobileMe, now known as iCloud.

As Gibson argues, the ability to offer cloud-based services (which are really just web services with a fancier name) is becoming increasingly important for companies like Apple and Google, as they try to deepen their relationship with users. And while Google has always lagged behind Apple when it comes to the design and usability of its hardware, it has always had a significant lead in the web-services department. Compare iCloud mail to Gmail, or iTunes to Google Play, and Apple is the one that comes out looking the worst, not Google. As Gibson puts it, quoting a friend:

“Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services. I’m a long-time Mac user and a diehard Apple fan, and even I will admit that Apple’s approach to the web has been a clusterf***… Almost anything Apple does which involves the internet is a mess.”

Apple doesn’t really understand the social web

Apple WWDC 2012 Twitter

In an attempt to bolster its social features in the wake of the disaster that was Ping, Apple signed a partnership with Twitter that made the service the social plumbing inside virtually all of Apple’s products (and has since signed a similar arrangement with Facebook). Given that it already has that kind of relationship, there seems to be little rationale for Apple to acquire Twitter outright — as financial columnist Barry Ritholtz and others have argued in the past.

But Gibson point isn’t that Apple should buy Twitter to make itself more social. He says it should do so because Twitter understands how to build, run and grow a large-scale web service that handles hundreds of thousands of interactions every minute — something that he seems to believe is more or less impossible for Apple to do on its own. As he describes it:

“Not only does Twitter use some of the most advanced web technology, they invented it… Apple should buy Twitter not for its social network, but for its talent and technology. That talent and technology could undoubtedly help bring Apple and iCloud into the 21st century. The social network is basically an added bonus.”

Having advanced his theory, Gibson then goes on to list all the reasons why it probably won’t happen, including the fact that Twitter probably wants to stay independent and try to justify its estimated $10-billion market value, and Apple is “too in denial about the failings of its antiquated approach to the web to consider dropping such a huge amount of money.” As it becomes more and more of a media company, Twitter is also likely to lose some of the engineering talent that would make it worth acquiring, Gibson says (something he argues is already happening).

That said, it’s an interesting idea. There is no question that Apple’s biggest shortcomings lie in the area of web services, and there is no sign of it attacking that problem in any real way, although some Apple fans are hoping design guru Jony Ive will be able to help now that he is taking over responsibility for the usability of all of Apple’s products, as opposed to just the hardware. Merging cultures is never easy, but Twitter may be the closest thing to a plug-and-play solution for the company — unless of course Apple wants to reach for the stars and make a takeover bid for Google itself.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Mr Pics / Shutterstock.com

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