Ping! That’s the sound of a social network wannabe bouncing off the armour plating of Facebook as it crashes and burns. The surprise is that the wannabe is owned by Apple. But is this defeat, or a tactical withdrawal? Guy Daniels reports.
Apple wooed its faithful on Monday with news that it had finally kissed and made up with Facebook, bringing in-app messaging to the leading social network site with the next releases of both is Mac-based and mobile operating systems. But it didn’t have anything to say about its own attempts at creating a music-focused social service, Ping.
According to a report by the WSJ’s Digital Daily columnist, John Paczkowski, that’s because Ping is dead. Or at least, it will be after this next round of OS updates. He cites “sources close to the company” that say that Ping, “will be gone with the software’s next major release, likely scheduled for this fall”. The software in question is iTunes, which has just been updated to version 10.6.3, and whilst Ping is still present, it doesn’t work particularly well.
Instead, Apple will rely on its system-wide Twitter (and now Facebook) integration to provide social networking features. That will be welcome news for users, but not for Apple.
Apple purchased the Lala music service in December 2009 for a sum thought to be around $80 million. Despite a serious number at the time, it was thought that Lala’s backers didn’t receive their full investments back, with reports suggesting that their returns were as low as 50 cents on the dollar. Apple down shut the service, using it as the basis of its Ping launch nine months later.
Yet when it did launch, Ping wasn’t able to connect with Facebook, despite strong suggestions that it would. Apparently, there was a last minute hitch.
Speaking to the WSJ’s Kara Swisher in September 2010, the late Steve Jobs
said Facebook wanted “onerous terms that we could not agree to,” related to connecting with Facebook friends on Ping. And that’s why Ping remains pretty damn useless.
Only a couple of weeks ago at an industry conference, Apple’s current CEO, Tim Cook, was lukewarm about the prospects for Ping:
“We tried Ping and the customer voted and said, this isn’t something I want to put a lot of energy into. Some customers love it, but there’s not a huge number that do, so will we kill it? I don’t know. I’ll look at it.”
Macworld magazine added to Cook’s woes by pointing out five major flaws in the service: the missing Facebook connection; too fiddly; the lack of smarts and guidance; that marketing smell; and “the fundamental flaw”. This flaw, says Macworld editor Christopher Breen, is that it just wasn’t social enough:
“Social networks succeed, in part, because they encourage you to overshare. Ping, however, demands that you undershare. A true friend doesn’t wave a bowl of soup under your conk, allow you a savoury sniff, and then jerk it away demanding that you pungle up to ingest the stuff. They scoot it over—complete with spoon, napkin, and best wishes.”
So will Apple walk away from Ping? As Cook said, “this isn’t something that I want to put a lot of energy into”. That’s as good an indication as any that Apple will quietly drop the service (just at it did the 17” MacBook monster on Monday, and just as it surely will the far-too-niche-for-the-new-consumer-led-Apple Mac Pros – which remain over priced and under powered). But if you believe Apple will simply cede this space to Facebook, then think again.
Monday’s WWDC announcements saw Apple deliver Google a body blow by launching its own map search, complete with local search. Google is getting pushed further out of the core iOS services, and will suffer financially as a result. Apple wants it all. Yes, the motivation behind sticking it to Google is that it felt betrayed by the launch of Android, and there are no signs that Apple feels similarly miffed with Facebook. But ultimately it wants control of its entire mobile service.
Apple made big mistakes with Ping; don’t expect them to repeat them any time soon. But likewise, don’t expect the company to be beholden to third parties for long…
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