Apple held its now-annual iPod update event at the beginning of September, at which it showed off updated versions of the iPod Touch, iPod nano and iPod shuffle. These were the releases that garnered the lion's share of attention in the press, particularly the iPod Touch.
However, there were a number of software announcements that slipped under the radar. Namely, iTunes 10 and iOS 4.1.iTunes 10, if truth be told, offers little advance over iTunes 9 in terms of the actual functionality of the program. It breaks Apple's own interface guidelines, but let's not get into that.
The "banner feature" for iTunes 10 is Ping, a social network by which you can see what your friends are buying, listening to and recommending, as well as find out what other music people who like the same music as you like also like. In addition you can "follow" various musos who post messages and such to the service from time to time.
You can, of course, post your own messages and updates so your friends and followers can see what you're up to.Sounds great, doesn't it? Leveraging the power of the internet to create a bustling, thriving, sharing community of like-minded music lovers. But doesn't it also sound just a little bit familiar? Aren't friends and followers the type of thing one accumulates on Twitter and Facebook? Aren't status updates and pithy messages the type of thing for which one uses those services? Don't musicians and other celebrities post stuff to those networks to "get closer to the fans" (read: shamelessly market themselves)?
At a time when people are beginning to notice the overload that membership of Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Posterous, MySpace, Friendster, LinkedIn, bebo and who knows how many others can lead to, did the world need another social networking service?
Does Ping offer anything else that's actually new? Oh yeah. It's controlled by Apple. Had Ping come along, say, five years ago, it would have been revolutionary. Innovative. Magical, even. Now it makes Apple look like a Johnny-come-lately also-ran, and not integrating it with any of the existing social-network sites makes Apple look maybe just a little bit petulant.
The iOS 4.1 update, announced at the same event, contains mainly bug fixes. Its flagship feature is "Game Centre", a sort of one-stop shop where users can sign in and share their high scores and achievements in various games with their friends and other players around the world as well as joining in with multi-player games and ... wait a sec ... is this another social-networking service? It is, isn't it? Don't try to fool me.
To recap: at the beginning of September Apple launched not one but two social-networking services which don't integrate with the other leading social-networking services, nor even with each other, nor with Apple's own MobileMe cloud computing service.
When did Apple go into the business of reinventing stuff that other people had already invented? Even when Apple has historically refused to conform with the rest of the industry there's usually an explanation - a reason why the Apple solution is better or more elegant than the direction everyone else is taking.
Apple used to be in the business of innovating. That can't possibly be the case here, or there wouldn't be two entirely different, entirely separate services (both of which, it should be noted, are centred on the iTunes Store - an overlap of membership is not hard to envisage).
In this case Apple's solution is not demonstrably superior to Facebook or Twitter - in fact it's demonstrably less elegant than an integrated service that leveraged the massive number of people who already have iTunes accounts.
Meanwhile, rumour has it Jonny Ive is working on a device that slices bread.
Matthew JC. Powell is already a member of too many social networks. Find him on one of them or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Issue: 315 | May 2013
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