Why Facebook and Google+ are the iPad’s ‘Killer Apps’



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.

  • mrmansamusa

    Bring me my Facebook app for iPad!!!!!!!

  • Mike Elgan

    It’s pretty crazy that the iPad has been out since April of 2010, and still — nothing from Facebook!

  • baby_Twitty

    “we must admit that so far the tablet is an optional toy for rich young people.”
    This is FALSE. 
    i ain’t rich, but i own certain iOS devices.
    So are many of my friends. We have normal incomes and we save up for months to buy the things we like (computers, iphone/ipads, cameras, etc..etc..)

  • freediverx

    I’m still not satisfied with any of these offerings… 

    Facebook has the obvious advantage of controlling everyone’s database of friends at the moment. But this comes at the cost of a horrendous user interface and a business paradigm that is hell bent on depriving its users of any practical privacy controls or ownership of their personal information. I’ve yet to see anything innovative or minimally satisfying from this company’s developers and designers. Zuckerberg’s disinterest in the needs and wants of FB users is patently obvious. 

    Google has a spotty track record on protecting its users’ privacy, but this has had more to do with a certain disconnect they have with regular people than it does with a determined effort to deprive people of their privacy (unlike Facebook). Looks like they’ve learned some lessons with Google+, as the circles concept seems like a brilliant and intuitive way to control what you share with whom. But let’s face it, this is not a company known for delivering engaging or elegant user interfaces. Worse yet, it’s going to be tough to get people to abandon FB and rebuild their friend lists on a new platform.

    Apple is best equipped to offer an elegant and easy to use interface that is also seamlessly integrated into their other products, and they also respect and protect their customers’ privacy. Unfortunately, Apple has yet to demonstrate that they “get” or sufficiently value social networking to make any real impact in this space.

  • prof_peabody

    I don’t think kids will be abandoning Facebook for Google Plus anytime soon.  

    Google Plus is great for those that already use Google mail and have a lot of friends who do the same.  In other words, techie crowds, geeks and computer people.  That is not the same group of kids that uses Facebook for sexting photos.  

    I’m not even sure the idea of “circles” of friends will even catch on.  It’s the same old Android vs. iOS debate, or Linux vs. Mac.  Yes one has more choices, but it comes with the penalty of management difficulties.  

    I’m not convinced that people actually *want* to spend all their time sorting friends into groups and figuring out which group they want to post what to.  A lot of people just want a list of friends.  In any case, if it turns out that grouping your friends is popular, and if it turns out that it’s not too much hassle to manage it all, then all Facebook has to do is add “groups” (squares, circles, etc.) to the friends list and all of a sudden there is no reason to leave Facebook anymore.

  • prof_peabody

    Yeah, I didn’t get that either.  The iPad is among the cheapest computers you can buy and one of the best at the same time.  Anyone could afford one if they really wanted one.

  • Wayne_Luke

    I guess if Social Networking is the limit of your existance, these are must have killer apps. I have a Facebook account. Doubt I’ll do much with Google+ since they already have too much of my personal information. However social networking isn’t why I bought my iPad. It can do so much more.
    To me the Starwalk app is more of a killer app than something repackaging a social networking website. Starwalk brings out the capabilities of the tablet without even needing Augmented Reality or cameras. Something truly mobile and different that cannot be completely replicated with a desktop or laptop.

    As for it being a toy for rich young people. I am in my 40s and this is the first Apple device I have owned in 15 years. My wife and I do okay and make over the median income for my area but we’re by no means rich.

  • freediverx

    Kind of a stretch to expect a decent iPad app from a company that’s yet to deliver a decent iPhone app or a well designed website for that matter. FB has neither the talent nor the interest required to deliver satisfying user experiences.

    When thinking about this, consider that of the three companies I mentioned in my post above, only one targets “consumers” as their customer.

  • Deftdrummer

    Great read but where I have trouble is getting people I’d actually want to interact with to make the switch. For example, my mum who just barely got involved with Facebook. Is her tech savvy son going to realistically tell her to switch networks because the new one makes it easier for me to post without her seeing everything I do with my friends?

    It’s a catch 22 really because social networks inherently require “me” thinking and unfortunately no two people’s way of communicating are the same. What’s good for me is not necessarily the best for my mom.

    Add to this the problem that ALL these companies are after what the user is reluctant to give out.

    As some out else pointed out, Apple could do a legitimate social networks because they still value a users privacy. Like imessages will do for common apple hardware platforms, an Apple social network would essentially serve the same function eg; “paid” for in full.

  • Wayne_Luke

    You can already create sublists or groups of people on Facebook and control who sees what posts and which is your default. The Circles in Google+ aren’t new. I’ve been using Facebook’s lists for a couple of years now to regulate my posts and who can see what information, photos, videos, etc…

  • Wayne_Luke

    I know people who bought the iPad as their first ever computer device. I wish it had been around 10 years ago for my now 94-year old grandmother. It would have helped as Alzheimer’s has eaten away at her mind. We tried different “Easy” computing devices for her but she never caught on. Of course planes weren’t even common when she was a girl so it is acceptable. She would have had fun with an iPad though. No learning curve. No instruction needed.

  • Daryl Eshun

    This piece reads like a column that appeared yesterday on I, Cringely: http://www.cringely.com/2011/0…. Plagiarism or coincidence?

  • Greg Loesch

    I’d +1 this if you had a Google+ widget… ;)

  • TerG

    My mother is not a rich young person, she is 69 and the iPad is the first computer she understood right away and has felt comfortable using. She reads books, web browsing, plays games, email and so on.
    She already found her killer device and it doesn’t need a killer app. Three of her friends already bought iPads after they tried hers!!!

  • Finbarr Townsend

    Bit disappointing to find some people didn’t “get” what this article is about. I don’t, for instance, think that Mike was “having a go” at people just because he wrote “rich kids” or whatever. You know the type he was referring to, the kids whose Moms n Dads buy them the most expensive gadget instead of going to a big event in the kids life and really getting to know their own kids. Cut the man some slack – he was only writing a line! 

    Getting back to the article, reading this was like a Eureka moment for me – I think Mike has looked into a crystal ball and has come up with a future that’s spot on. Social Networking, be it through Facebook or Google+ or any other vehicle, will go stratospheric on the iPad. If the UI of the upcoming official apps for either of these is up to par with the best of other apps on the AppStore it can only mean that checking out status feeds, making a quick Skype call, posting some photos and any one of the myriad activities that are cumbersome and even time consuming on a computer, will become just a matter of a tap on a screen. 

    This really will answer the question Mike posed – “what do I use an iPad FOR?” When all forms of communication and social network activity are collected together in a beautiful User Interface, the iPad, or maybe especially a 6″ iPad nano of some sort, will quite simply become ubiquitous; as much an extension of a person’s life as a phone. Apple have made a fantastic job of removing the technology from the things people want to do – no more “learning computers” just to share photos etc. With new social networking possibilities from Google+ or an improved FB, the iPad will really have found its raison d’etre – it will become the “go to” device for staying in touch.I for one found this article to be one of those rare reads where you come away saying “I’ve just seen the future.” When it comes to ideas on the future of both social networking and the device people will use to do that networking, I really do reckon that Mike has nailed it on the head.

    Nice one Mike!

  • AnthonyFear

    Interesting article, but i think it’s going to be the other way around.
    I think the iPad has the potential to be the Google+ or Facebook ‘killer’ app.

    Both of these social networks NEED a great iPad app to draw the masses in. Facebook needs one to stop people moving to another network and, of course, G+ needs one to encourage the migration to begin.

    I think the iPad app has the ability to dramatically affect the forutnes of both networks.

    I for one though am looking forward to getting my hands on G+ mobile app.

  • Alfiejr

    for us media lovers, AirPlay, iTunes Match, etc, are already the iPad “killer” apps. just add Apple TV your entire home is all set up. seamless, easier than any other service, no matter what they say. everything else is “mix and match” to some extent, no exceptions.

    I don’t do social. I just want to groove.

  • orthorim

    Ohhh yes I was thinking exactly the same thing. If Google+ has an iPhone app and Facebook only their comparatively shitty web interface, then Google has a leg up.

    Same for everything else. What is only understood slowly is that Apple has created a new, better user interface for many things we used to do In web browsers. All of these things we used to do on the web are now available as app, and much better for it.

    Btw I am already using the killer app for iPad – Flipboard. It takes the best of a high end glossy magazine – for style and usability – and the web – for variety, volume, and freshness of news and makes it into something new and irresistible. I don’t read news on my computer anymore… The iPad experience is just so much better. Flipboard… Wow!!

  • Noella Licandro

    Interesting considering apple just made their beta program http://bit.ly/oGml67 open to the public.

  • TixRee

    Never really thought about it like that before. Makes sense dude.


  • TixRee

    Those guys really seem to make a lot of sense . Wow.


  • jongar jabbar

    although i love the ipad,
    i dont think its the cheapest computing device
    i heard i can build a highly capable PC for around the same price

  • djrobsd

    I highly doubt that.  The facebook apps in the past have lacked full functionality that the web site has, buggy (pictures don’t load immediately after uploading them), comments missing from your status updates, etc… I mean seriously, why do they need an app when they could just write a decent Safari compatible page and call it a day?

  • Remco

    please invite me : r.lok.freelance@gmail.com

  • BarryOToole

    FB does have a decent iPhone app, but I understand that the guy who made it has left the company. Maybe that’s the delay for producing an iPad app.

  • Mike Rathjen

    iPad requires a computer (for now).

    How did she activate it? How does she do OS updates?

  • BarryOToole

    I agree about the ‘killer app’ classification. I consider iWork, iMovie and GarageBand as killer apps for the iPad, along with apps like Angry Birds. Of course, FB and G+ apps would make the iPad/iOS more attractive, but by no means they are comparable to VisiCal or Lotus123.

  • BarryOToole

    This is presentation without attribution, which is becoming so common in blogs nowadays.

  • Wayne_Luke

    Well she is too far removed from this world for an iPad to have any benefit these days. I said 10 years ago it would have been a benefit. However once activated, it doesn’t need a computer and plenty of family members will have computers so not difficult to do. They’ll even activate an iPad at the Apple Store when you purchase one if you ask them. My own iPad hasn’t been connected to my computer for about 6 months now except for updates. Long before the first remnants of iCloud showed up. All my documents are stored on iDisk.

  • BarryOToole

    I agree and disagree. While FB and G+ apps will certainly increase the appeal of the iPad, they by no means are restraining its utility by being absent.

    To answer the question “What would I do with an iPad”, I have realized that I almost never use my laptop since I got an iPad last year; all my needs are met with the iPad and Mac Mini, and almost all my use of a laptop has been supplanted by the iPad.

    With the iCloud, the iPad will become more productive; if there’s a ‘killer app’ for the iPad, it’s the iCloud, not a FB or a G+ app.

  • BarryOToole


  • BarryOToole

    I agree. Even including the price of the dolly you’ll need to carry that PC around to, say, a coffee shop.

  • LeoCastillo

    The Killer App for the iPad? It’s the App Store, silly. 

    You buy iPads to get apps from the App Store. The App Store itself is the killer app.
    Now prove me wrong.

  • mai duc chung

    The usual idea is that you would use NFC to set up the link between the two devices and then do an automatic hand over to a different protocol for doing the actual transfer of data – eg Bluetooth,iphone 5