Rumor on the Web this morning has it that Apple plans to add new social features to iTunes and maybe even launch some sort of social application, both of which would hook into popular social networks. There are even some fuzzy, could-be-real-could-be-fake screenshots showing the last.fm radio service and a “Social” playlist within iTunes. I don’t know if there’s any truth here, and don’t even have a gut reaction as to whether this stuff sounds likely or not. But this is the type of scuttlebutt that’s fun to ruminate on whether or not it leads to anything.
Apple has a huge group of passionate, engaged customers that every other tech company on the planet envies. (There may be far more Windows users than Mac ones, but there’s no comparison when it comes to the passion-per-user quotient.) Yet the company itself is a loner by nature, one that’s inherently cautious when it comes to participating in stuff it doesn’t control The company has largely opted out of the social aspect of the Web–it doesn’t blog and it doesn’t tweet. (It is dabbling in Facebook, at least, but iTunes only got an official Facebook page in May.)
The company’s social-media caution extends to product design. There are certainly social aspects to some of its apps–every time I use hotel broadband, I’m startled anew by the fact that iTunes’ library-sharing feature lets me see the music of random fellow guests. And the iPhone has become an extremely social beast thanks to third-party apps like the official Facebook one and the surging sea of Twitter clients. But I can’t think of any examples of an Apple product including built-in support for someone else’s social network except for the Facebook uploading that the company added to iPhoto ’09.
If Apple does decide to dive into social networking feet first, it would be cool. Building features into iTunes to let listeners share playlists, songs, and other music-related items across various social networks would be a relatively minor first step. As for the rumors of Apple building a social application of its own–well, being able to update statuses across multiple social networks is pretty mundane, and I have trouble believing that Apple would make that the core feature of anything it would bother building.
All the apps in iLife, from iPhoto to iMovie to Garage Band, are about creating stuff. When people create stuff, they want to tell their friends about it. So it might well make sense for iLife to add an application–let’s call it iSocial–that serves as a central hub for telling friends, family, and random strangers about things you’ve created and put on the Web (as well as music you’re enjoying) via the major social networks.
More often than not, Apple’s iLife updates are on an annual schedule. (Although it’s usually been unveiled at the Macworld Expo keynote that won’t happen next January, so it’s impossible to pin even a tentative date on when the next version might show up.) Here’s hoping that the new version of iTunes that will almost certainly be announced in September and the next iLife turn out to be definitive signs that Apple is no longer a social-networking skeptic or dabbler, but a full-fledged enthusiast.