[I]n short, the hardest, most expensive technical part of building a web-scale Twitter competitor already exists in Apple’s infrastructure. What’s missing, in an odd reversal of Apple’s usual pattern, is a well-designed, simple user experience that makes people want to participate.
Why hasn’t this happened?
I haven’t really thought about Apple in terms of entering what is, right now, seen as Twitter’s turf. But perhaps more than any other company, Apple could kill Twitter. And I do mean kill. Leave it with so few remaining users that it screams for a buyer who will then pick it up for fractions of pennies on every dollar that’s been sunk into it.
Apple out-Twittering Twitter would also give people who haven’t yet bought an iPhone a must-have reason for getting one too.
Just look at how the revolutionary way iPhone 1.0 handled email alone — inline photos, OMFGZ!!11 — that made people wet their pants and want to have one.
The same thing could happen with social.
So why hasn’t this happened?
It’s because of Steve Jobs.
Apple will pay attention only to what Steve Jobs is paying attention to. (Note that I am now arguing against a stance I took in this post.)
And this is going to sound mean, but Jobs has just become too old to understand the revolution that’s taking place around him. He sees “social” as just another feature, as an item on a checklist: “Oh, people will want those things called Facebook and Twitter, so let’s put them in. And let’s add some ‘social’ stuff to iTunes and call it Ping.”
When I say “too old,” I don’t mean as in doddery or stodgy. It’s just that he has reached a certain stage in his life that most adults find themselves in: Overwhelmingly their time is dedicated to the job at hand. He no longer has the unconstrained time that people in their teens and twenties have. His relationship to what’s happening in the world around him has become like my relationship to the telephone (dcdr: loved it, now hate it).
As you get older, the Been there, done that bank account of experience tends to create blind spots. This is the fundamental exploit the eager young always use to overthrow the entrenched old. It’s how Apple itself came to exist!
Plus, well, he’s also Steve Jobs. Being social for him isn’t really possible any longer — because he is Steve Jobs. Being social quickly devolves into people wanting stuff from him. So why should he be social or pay attention to it? He’s no longer part of the “We’re all in this together” spirit of the young.
So Steve Jobs’ blind spot is social.
But this is not to say he’s never understood the value of collaboration. He understood it brilliantly in that post I did of his demonstrating NeXT’s software.
However, notice that everything in that video revolves around delayed-time. Notice there is no real-time stuff — no chat, for example! That would have been very easy to add too, given the way the NeXT machines were networked. It didn’t have to be group chat — and probably couldn’t, given the scheme shown — but there wasn’t even one-to-one chat.
Which makes me wonder if even back then, even when he was younger, he felt about real-time communication as I do today about the telephone.
Twitter has many shortcomings. It’s a flood, it’s ephemeral, it’s unreliable, it’s incomplete, and more.
If Steve Jobs ever has his Lightbulb Moment about social, he’ll gut Twitter.
Because he will start doing what his trademark thinking does, asking, “Hm, wouldn’t be it be neat if it could …?”
And then he’ll finally have more uses for those large data centers he’s been busy building. As well as another — and more sensible — use for iAd. And more uses for Ping, for iCloud, for Facetime, and for all those location-based ideas he has in the wings. And there would also be a multitude of spin-offs that would be birthed by adding a social dimension to Apple’s iOS.
All of that would make Apple just about unstoppable too.
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