Ping, the pseudo-social network once proudly baked into iTunes, will be no more by the end of the month, Apple announced on Thursday. It's a smart (if overdue) move, but now the company needs to get more serious about integrating established social networks into its products.
Amid celebrated hardware launches, anticipated operating system updates, and insane revenue numbers, Ping stood out as the most glaring product-related stain in Apple's recent history. Nobody liked it, and the word Ping practically became shorthand for what happens when a tech giant launches a new product or feature only to see it fizzle.
Apple deserves some credit for recognizing that Ping wasn't working and deciding to focus elsewhere. After all, it rakes in billions of dollars each quarter, the vast majority of which comes from selling mobile hardware, followed by things like MacBooks and iPods, tied together by a converging pair of operating systems. The company has its hands full with digital media and related initiatives, too. It didn't need its own social network.
That said, this isn't Apple's last social hurrah. Social media still has an important role to play in the company's future, and it needs to forge the right strategy. Rather than rolling its own, the company needs to ensure that existing social platforms are integrated with its products in ways that benefit its customers.
The first phase of that strategy is well underway. Once Apple pushes out the next Mountain Lion and iOS 6 update, both of the company's major operating systems will feature deep integration with Facebook and Twitter. But why stop there? That integration could be even deeper, and more important, it could include other popular social networks.
Posting iPhone photos directly to Facebook and Twitter is nice, but the visual nature of Pinterest and Instagram begs for equally easy sharing to those services from within iOS. Tweeting and posting status updates from across the OS is great for users (and the services, at least as far as Twitter was concerned when iOS 5 launched), but there may come a day when the unthinkable becomes unavoidable and we see a Google+ button baked into the operating system. Don't hold your breath on that one.
However Apple's social strategy shapes up, it will have to - by definition - serve the interests of users. That's something Ping just wasn't doing.