The Facebook integration into Apple’s OS X and iOS brings me relief. It’s the easiest, least icky, most user-friendly partnership between two major tech companies I’ve seen in a long while, and that's saying something.
The rubber has hit the road for the social Web, and it has to start making money. This has led mostly to decisions that hurt users. But in the case of Apple and Facebook, with one possible exception, this is a good long-term idea, and as a result, the users actually win.
The address book and the calendar were the things holding smartphones back. Aside from maps (which is another story), they’re the two most important features. The address book is for communicating, the calendar is for making a plan and maps are for getting there. Those are the three most important things you do with a mobile computer.
The problem smartphones had with communicating and planning is that you need other people for them. Facebook is where the people are.
Facebook & Contacts
Before this integration, you had to manage your contacts yourself. You could have email addresses, phone numbers, job titles, even last names that were long out of date. It was on you to figure that out and change it. If you turn on Apple’s Facebook integration, you can merge your contacts nicely with their Facebook profiles. When your contacts update their profiles, the changes are pushed to your devices.
Apple isn't the first phone maker to have this feature, of course. Facebook was deeply integrated into the ill-fated WebOS, and Bing and Windows Phone integrate Facebook in many ways, too. But iOS is a dominant platform, so this is the first such integration to reach massive adoption.
Pro tip: You might get some duplicate contacts if the names are too different between your own contacts and Facebook. It’s easy to link them together, and if you disconnect Facebook later, your old contacts will be fine. Just edit one of the contacts, scroll to the bottom, then choose the other one as the linked contact.
Facebook & Calendars
Facebook Events have long been the easiest way to plan something with a bunch of people connected on Facebook. Facebook is also - let’s face it - the de facto way to remember people’s birthdays. Now that it’s integrated into Apple’s calendars, all the scheduling can finally be done in one place.
Events and birthdays are the easy part. They just appear in the Calendars apps on iOS and Mac as new calendars that can be shown or hidden as needed. New or changed events are pushed down from Facebook in the background, and you receive push notifications when they’re coming up.
Protections For Users
With any other hardware company, I wouldn’t let Facebook climb aboard my phone in a million years. Facebook wants our data, all of it, all the time, and the phone is where it all comes from. But Apple doesn’t let Facebook take over the phone. Facebook gets intentional sharing of text, photos and location, and it gets to easily link together any apps we use with our Facebook login. That’s all it gets, and they’re all conveniences for us.
You only have to push one big, red button, and all the Facebook integration is yanked out of contacts, out of calendars, and out of the sharing menus in apps and in Notification Center. You can even control access from Calendar, Contacts and the Facebook app separately.
One Trouble Spot
Google is the elephant in the room here. Hundreds of millions of people use Google for email and calendars, and both Facebook and Apple would like them to stop. Josh Constine over at TechCrunch has an interesting theory that a recent, annoying change to Facebook profiles, which replaced your default email address on Facebook with your [username]@facebook.com address, was all about hiding Gmail after integration with Apple.
Think about it. After most people merged their address books with Facebook, all the @gmail.com addresses would go to Facebook Messages instead, since most people didn’t notice the change. Here’s how to fix that, by the way.
That was shady. Facebook shouldn’t have done that. Maybe Apple even pressured them into it. But it was kind of a desperate move, and at least users can undo it. This was one unfortunate inconvenience that may have resulted from the Apple/Facebook partnership. But at least it wasn’t a Twitter-style banishment of a beloved service.
Where The People Are
Facebook is exactly the right partner to help Apple build these features. If your entire network is deep into Google+ for communication and planning, Android is always going to work better for you. But otherwise, Facebook integration provides Apple users two major conveniences that complete the feature set of the smartphone, but it doesn’t force you off of another provider for email or calendars, if that’s how you work.
Lead photo courtesy of Gdgt.