Game Center and Ping Prove Apple Can’t Do Social (Yet)

So the last week or so has seen Apple unveil two big ‘social’ products – Game Center for iOS devices, and Ping for iTunes on desktop and iOS 4.

Both products lack any real link into the social web, and unless Apple are hoping to create their own universes so massive that this no longer matters (#unlikely), these services are going to chug along quietly like Apple’s other quietly rubbish services (iDisk, Apple TV et al).

Let’s take a look at Ping:

OK, so we’ve got some tweet-like updates and snippets of news, photos and videos from the world’s biggest artists, but not a lot beyond that. The user comments lack threading or notifications of follow-up comments and you can only see a few at once so they don’t really foster discussion. Again there is no link from any of this content out to the web.

Let’s look at my profile:

Like any decent profile page it shows my photo, some personal info and a bit of blurb. There’s also a nice little module that displays your music tastes in album art. How would you interact with me if you found this? Er, you can’t, seemingly. You can follow me but can’t message me in any way. So all in all this is a very un-social product. Some people have described it as a nail in the coffin for MySpace (who I worked for, until recently) but as long as Ping remains so bereft of social features, is limited to the topmost sliver of the world’s biggest artists and doesn’t allow music streaming it doesn’t come close to threatening Spotify, or MySpace.

Game Center

We all updated our iOS devices the other day to find a new icon on the home screen – Game Center. It comes in answer to the scattered and disconnected slew of services such as OpenFeint, GameLoft Live, Geocade, Scoreloop etc that add a social element to mobile games. As with Ping, Apple clearly feel if anyone can enter this space and clean up it’s them. That would of course be true if Apple’s garden walls weren’t so prohibitively impenetrable that any service with social at its heart is throttled to death before it’s started.

Again there is no evidence of any link to Facebook, Twitter or that thing called the internet. You can add people as friends if you know the email address they signed up to Apple with and games (the games I have anyway) seem slow to adopt but time will tell if this succeeds. It certainly has more chance of success than Ping as there is an actual need for it. With a few tweaks there is no reason why this won’t become Xbox Live or PSN for iOS devices.

The truth is that Apple’s ethos just doesn’t work so well for them in today’s world and needs a bit of a revision. This stuff also shows that whilst Apple have (rightly) ruled the noughties as the ultimate aspirational brand, they’re not beyond becoming a dinosaur and crumbling. In fact, taking a quick look at history would suggest they’d be unusual if that didn’t happen.

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