Remember the old “killer app” concept? The idea is that an application becomes so desirable that it guarantees massive sales of the hardware platform it runs on.
The Wikipedia has the best definition I’ve seen: A killer app is “any computer program that is so necessary or desirable that it proves the core value of some larger technology, such as computer hardware, gaming console, software, or an operating system. A killer app can substantially increase sales of the platform on which it runs.”
The best examples are VisiCalc on the Apple II and Lotus 1-2-3 for the IBM PC. Don’t laugh. Without those early “killer apps,” you may never have even heard of the Mac or Windows. (“Cult of Commodore,” anyone?)
Right now, everyone thinks the iPad is successful, and it is. But the number of iPad users sill pales in comparison with, say, the number of Windows users or the number of Facebook users (each boasting well over half a billion users). As much as we love our iPads, we must admit that so far the tablet is an optional toy for rich young people. The iPad dominates tablets, but tablets are on the fringe. The iPad, and the tablet, have not yet found their “killer app.”
But they will. And soon. Both Google and Facebook are both about to release their first-ever iPad apps for social networking. And I think the experience will be so compelling that it will drive millions of new users to get iPads, just for social networking.
Of course, the apps will be available for Android tablets as well. But all things being equal (which they actually might not be — more on that below), people will continue to prefer iPad. So, really, the new social networking apps will be “killer apps” for tablets as a platform, and iPad will dominate tablets.
Right now, social networking on tablets sucks. On Facebook, you can access the service only via your tablet’s browser or via some shady third-party app. The web interface is touch-unfriendly, and the whole experience is unappealing.
When you direct your tablet’s browser to Google+, Google’s shiny new “Facebook killer,” you get a custom mobile version. The interface is a little better than Facebook’s, but the functionality is worse. You can’t, for example, reshare posts.
When the Facebook and Google+ apps hit, which could be any day now, they’re going to be truly awesome. The best indication yet of what’s in store for us is the Google+ Android app. Yes, it’s for Android and for cell phones, but at this point it’s all we’ve got to go on. (The iOS version of Google+, which will work on both iPhone and iPad is awaiting Apple’s approval as we speak.) As you can see from this video, the app looks very appealing to use, and makes good use of the device’s GPS and camera, and offers a superior alternative to texting with easy group chat. This is a beautiful and compelling app — and it’s just the 1.0 version. It’s also worth noting that the online version of Google+ is spectacularly touch-friendly already, with drag-and-drop contact categorization, complete with some minor iOS-like physics.
Facebook is reportedly working on both an iPad-friendly HTML5 site, and also an iPad app. These new apps, combined with the iPad’s incredible user interface, will provide the kind of experience people really crave from social networking. Friends’ activities will pop up instantly, and people will be able to seamlessly switch from status updates to comments to chat to live video calls.
Here’s why tablets and the new Facebook and Google+ apps together add up to a “killer app” experience:
The answer to the question: “What do I use it for?”
People who see the iPad are usually attracted to it, but don’t buy one because they can’t imagine what they’d use it for. The new social networking apps will answer that question. They’ll have a viral effect. When people see others using the new Facebook or Google+ apps, they’ll “get it” right away, and feel compelled to get an iPad so they can do the same thing.
The usage model overlap
You can use an iPad or any other touch tablet anywhere — and I tend to use my everywhere — but the intended use and most popular use is while lounging around at home on the couch, or at the kitchen table — mostly evenings and weekends. This is also prime-time for social networking. Sure, people are using social networks constantly, checking in quickly while at work, or on their cell phones. But many users also spend a big block of time in the evenings to really catch up.
Tablet prime-time and social networking prime-time are in fact the same time. Right now, people do some social networking on their iPads. But the new apps will drive far more social networking use while people are at home but away from their PCs.
The demographics overlap
Google+ offers a feature called Social Circles, which are groupings of contacts that can be addressed individually. For example, a typical user might have separate “Friends” and “Family” Social Circles. (Contrast this with Facebook, which lumps everyone into the same “Friends” category.)
This is exactly what young people really want. They don’t want parents, family friends and grandparents listening in on their conversations with peers — and they definitely don’t want everyone to see the pictures. Social Circles will cause teens and twentysomethings to abandon Facebook in favor of Google+ in the same way they formerly dumped MySpace in favor of Facebook.
I think the experience of Google+ on iPad will be so compelling for young people that this will be the golden combination for millions of them. As teens leave their parents and grandparents behind on Facebook and embrace Google+, they’ll drive new iPad sales that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.
The company crackdown
There has always been a cat-and-mouse game between company IT departments and users regarding technology. First they banned PCs, but people brought them in anyway. Then they banned personal cell phones, and people bought them anyway. Users always find a way around company bans.
The biggest ban nowadays is on social networking at work. Employers are realizing that the lion’s share of goofing off is happening on Facebook. And it’s a security risk, too, as social networks expose company networks to viruses, hacking and “oversharing” of company intellectual property and trade secrets. So companies are increasingly banning or blocking social networks.
The easiest and best way for employees to skirt the ban, is to smuggle an iPad into the office and have the social network running over the 3G connection. This is already happening. But when the new apps hit, it’s going to be much better.
The social network wars
After trying several unsuccessful approaches to social networking, Google finally has a mega-hit on its hands. Google+ is a very serious threat to Facebook, and Facebook knows it. The companies are now engaged in a major battle for the future of eyeballs (not to mention the Holy Grail of advertising: deep demographic and contextual data on every user).
As a result, each will do everything it can to clobber the other. And that benefits users. Every killer feature that one company comes out with, the other will try to match. Social networking is becoming very cool.
The most conspicuous example of this growing coolness is the recent integration of video chat. Google+ offers something call “Hangouts,” which is a free and simple group video chat service (up to 10 simultaneous users). Facebook responded within a week by announcing the integration of Skype into Facebook. Suddenly, the social networks have video chat!
It’s just a matter of time before video features are integrated into the tablet apps. I believe Google+’s Hangouts and Facebook’s Skype integration will do what FaceTime has almost done: mainstream video conferencing.
Of course, Apple could see social networking app video as a threat to FaceTime, and also to the iPad user experience, and block it. But doing so would simply make the new social networking apps the “killer app” for Android tablets, rather than iPads. So I don’t think they’ll block it in the long run.
If you like tablets and social networking like I do, it’s a great time to be alive. The first-ever iPad apps for Facebook and Google+ are going to send tablet-based social networking into the stratosphere — and with it, iPad sales.