If the latest reports are to be believed, we'll soon be doing a lot more "liking" from our iDevices. That's because Apple is expected to roll out Facebook integration in iOS 6, allegedly not unlike it did with Twitter in the last major update to its mobile operating system.
The baking of the world's biggest social network deep into one of the world's biggest smartphone operating systems is a move that, while incredibly delayed, will present important advantages to both companies.
What's in it for Facebook
When Twitter's deep integration with iOS 5 rolled out, the microblogging service saw a huge increase in daily sign-ups. Facebook, which is already well on its way to tallying up its billionth users, probably won't see quite as big of a jump in new users. In some markets, Facebook may see a noticeable uptick in signups as a result of the iOS integration. But the biggest advantage for the newly public social giant will likely be increases in content-sharing and user engagement.
With Facebook baked right into iOS, sharing content on the social network will be considerably easier. Not only will the integration simplify single sign-on authentication within third-party apps (and thus reduce the already minor friction there), but its role in Apple's own native apps will be a boon for Facebook. Safari and the Camera app alone will be substantial pipelines of content funneling directly into Facebook, enabling easier sharing of articles, blog posts and photos.
In many ways, the fact that these apps don't already function this way is absurd. For the last few years, the relationship between the two giants has been, in Facebook's parlance, complicated. Now that they're warming up to one another, users will get some useful, if long-overdue, features.
What Apple and iOS Stand to Gain
When the words "social" and "Apple" wind up in the same sentence, it's usually followed by some form of ridicule for Ping, the company's most serious social networking effort to date. That's fine. Apple has plenty of strengths; this just isn't one of them. Deep Facebook integration into the company's mobile OS will help amend it with some badly needed social features.
Apple has always strived to provide the most optimal user experience possible. As social networking weaves itself ever more deeply into the lives of hundreds of millions of people, it becomes a bit harder to achieve that goal without teaming up with a company like Facebook.
It's no secret that discoverability has long been a shortcoming of the iTunes App Store. Apple is expected to fix that with whatever comes of their acquistion of Chomp, but in the meantime, the Facebook integration in iOS 6 will help boost exposure for many popular apps. The partnership reportedly includes native "liking" of apps on iTunes, which will generate more awareness of apps within the Facebook ecosystem and also offer another measure of popularity beyond what's gleaned from Apple's own metrics and user-generated reviews. This also opens the door to another marketing opportunity for developers.
It's worth noting that the nature of Apple and Facebook's partnership is still unclear. TechCrunch reported on the alliance a few days ago, but as Cult of Mac's Mike Elgan points out, the report doesn't indicate that the integration will necessarily be as deep as Twitter's iOS presence. Elgan runs through a list of reasons why he thinks Apple is unlikely to get too cozy with Facebook, and his analysis is worth a read.
Assuming the integration is a meaningful one, the real winners here just may be users, given that so many are already actively using social networks from their iPhones and iPads on a daily basis. Like last year's Twitter integration, plugging Facebook into iOS will simply make it easier for people to do what they're already doing. Removing even a little bit of friction stands to improve the user experience considerably.