Apple In a Relationship with Facebook? It’s Complicated.

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complicated

MG Siegler posted a scoop on TechCrunch yesterday about the “relationship status” of Apple and Facebook.

Now the echo chamber is talking like Facebook is suddenly BFFs with Apple, similar to Apple’s relationship with Twitter.

That’s not true, and would be bad news if it was true.

Facebook is a lousy partner for Apple. Here’s why.

Not Exactly ‘Integration’

First, let’s be clear about what Siegler actually reported. He didn’t say Facebook would be integrated into Apple operating systems like Twitter is.

Siegler has “learned” from a source that Apple probably intends to announce some kind of limited integration, partnership or cooperation with Facebook.

When you currently use Facebook for iOS app “authentication” — for using your Facebook username and password instead of setting up a new one for the app — iOS switches you to the Facebook app for the authentication, then back to the original app to complete the login. The new announcement should log you in without switching to the Facebook app and back.

That’s it! That’s the news.

Siegler augments this apparently leaked information with speculation that Facebook might be added to the share screen along with Twitter for sharing something to your wall.

He says the change is for iOS 6 only and not for OS X.

The report is framed by Siegler as a trend toward ever increasing integration of Facebook into Apple operating systems that will bring Facebook to parity with Twitter integration.

I haven’t heard any evidence for that. And I would be very surprised if Apple pursued that.

Why Facebook Is a Lousy Partner for Apple

Personally, I don’t believe Apple intends to bring Facebook up to Twitter levels of partnership and integration. And they shouldn’t. Facebook is a “frenemy” at best.

Yes, Tim Cook said nice things about Facebook at All Things Digital. That’s what companies that are not in open warfare with each other do.

But Facebook is “Google Lite” when it comes to boldly entering into businesses that compete directly with Apple.

Remember September? That’s when Facebook asserted its desire to become the Internet’s number-one alternative to iTunes, challenging the whole Apple approach to content delivery. Facebook’s initiative was intended to make Facebook the Internet’s “primary entertainment hub,” according to The New York Times.

This month, the Times’ Nick Bilton reports that Facebook intends to release a phone next year. One insulting detail: They’re doing it with ex-Apple employees in a clear attempt to compete directly with the Apple iPhone using Apple’s own expertise and experience.

Facebook is a lousy Apple partner in other ways, too.

Their iOS apps suck, for example, using a mish-mash of kludgy tricks to get around Apple’s app development system and instead serve up Facebook via HTML5 and other technologies.

Facebook’s Messenger app is designed to compete directly against Apple’s iMessage. Facebook Camera app not only competes directly against Apple’s Camera app, it pretty much copies the app’s name. I expect Facebook to launch many more apps that aim to replace Apple’s own apps and hijack the iOS user experience.

Facebook is probably in talks to buy the Opera mobile browser in order to compete with Safari or for use inside their apps so they don’t have to play ball with Safari, or both.

Culture-wise, Facebook is also a bad association with Apple. The Facebook web site is the opposite of Apple’s minimalist cool. Facebook offers clunky, confusing interfaces and user-frustrating privacy policies. People love their family and friends on Facebook. But hardly anyone loves Facebook itself.

And if Facebook is flirting with Apple, they’re in bed with Microsoft and making breakfast, too. For example, Microsoft owns 1.6 percent of Facebook. They share patents. Facebook uses Bing. Facebook and Microsoft partner broadly and deeply.

A partnership with Facebook is a partnership with Microsoft.

In fact, the only thing appealing about Facebook to Apple is that they’re not Google, and they compete against Google. That’s not much to build a partnership on.

Twitter? Now THAT’S a Good Apple Partner (And an Even Better Acquisition)

Apple clearly loves Twitter. And what’s not to love? Twitter is the perfect social networking partner for Apple. Twitter is minimalist. It’s simple. It’s favored by Mac-loving celebrities and hipsters.

Unlike anything announced or leaked about Facebook, Twitter is truly integrated into Apple stuff.

When you click on “share” icon in iOS, say, from the Camera app or the Safari browser, the short list of options offers “Tweet.”

The inclusion in all share menus on all iOS devices is worth a billion dollars a year. To the best of my knowledge, Apple pays nothing.

The integration of another company’s services into Apple’s operating systems has rarely or never happened before. It happened for Twitter. It probably won’t happen for Facebook.

In fact, Twitter is such a good match that Apple should buy it. The reason is that Apple needs a social network of its own.

Social networks are how companies get to know their users so they can serve relevant content. That’s why all of Apple’s content competitors are offering products and services that harvest social signals (aggregated personal information derived from social networking activity). That’s why Google launched Google+. It’s why Amazon.com built a web browser. It’s why Facebook pushes “frictionless sharing.” It’s why Microsoft launched Bing and so.cl.

Apple’s got Siri, the intelligent agent. And Apple also sells advertising. In the long term, both these initiatives will require strong “social signals” or they will fail to keep up with competitive offerings from any number companies, especial Google.

Apple would be foolish to keep driving traffic to the many harvesters of social signals without having a way to gather its own. And Apple isn’t foolish.

The problem is that Twitter would be an expensive acquisition — almost certainly several billion dollars — possible even ten billion or more.

Still, despite the cost, acquiring Twitter would be a great move for Apple. And Apple can certainly afford it.

But Twitter acquisition or not, Apple should not partner with, integrate, cooperate with or help Facebook any more than they have to.

And so far, I haven’t seen any reason to believe that Apple is doing so.