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Why did Apple choose Twitter over Facebook for iOS 5?

twitter iOS 5When Apple introduced us to iOS 5 at WWDC earlier this week, one of the most attention-getting new features was its deep integration with Twitter. Every preinstalled iOS app now includes the option to share via Twitter and to even include your location. It’s a powerful tool and one many iOS users will be happy to use, but we have to ask ourselves: Why not Facebook? Don’t get us wrong, Twitter is a popular and far-reaching social network that boasts approximately 200 million users and one billion tweets per week. But Facebook’s grip on social media is something that cannot be challenged, and you have to wonder why Apple didn’t connect its service with iOS 5.

It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Windows Phone 7 handsets integrate Facebook into its People Hub, and Android merges Facebook friends with your phone contacts. But now any app iOS users download will simply request Twitter credential permission, a prestigious position given how important your Internet identity is to developers. So why not Facebook?

Technical complications

The easiest answer is that it’s just not ready yet. Apple and Facebook could very well be in discussions about a partnership and are simply navigating a way to best do this. Facebook is a more complex platform than Twitter, there’s more users can do with it, and it stands to reason that weaving its intricacies into those of iOS cleanly and efficiently will require more time. It’s hard to believe that the brains behind Apple and Facebook couldn’t find a working approach, but both companies have very established brands and finding a compromise may mean it takes longer to reach a finished product. That said, this seems unlikely – mostly given the history between these two tech giants.

Apple and Facebook aren’t friends

If Apple opted to integrate Twitter because talks with Facebook soured, it wouldn’t be the first time the two companies’ business relationship suffered from disagreement. Ping, Apple’s music-minded social platform, integrated Facebook at one point. Unfortunately, it didn’t play out smoothly and the social network shut off Facebook Connect for Ping and said the two would have to agree on some sort of deal. Apparently, Facebook’s terms were not to Steve Jobs’ liking (he called them “onerous”) and the Ping-Facebook integration was dead. And where did Apple turn? Twitter.

Facebook’s relationship with Microsoft likely doesn’t win it any favors with Apple either. The two computing giants are often pitted against each other, and it’s not just because of those “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials (although those didn’t help). They are one another’s antithesis and have battled in just about every digital arena, most recently in the mobile world where Microsoft continues to challenge Apple’s “App Store” trademark. Seeing as WP7 first wove Facebook deep into its mobile OS, it stands to reason that Apple didn’t want to be the second one there, especially given its previous tussle with Facebook.

The ball is in Facebook’s court

Facebook has had an interesting relationship with the mobile world since the consumer smartphone market began booming. Rumors about a “Facebook Phone” have plagued us, all while Facebook denies such ambitions. But the INQ Cloud Touch, the alleged “Facebook Phone,” so heavily integrates with the social network that it may as well be called such. There are still rumblings another device is in the works though, including rumors Facebook will partner with HTC on a smartphone. It’s not unthinkable that Facebook wants to see itself as more than a Website – even the world’s most popular Website – and has ambitions of becoming a fully-equipped platform. If this is the case, the company would likely be cautious about deeply integrating with the world’s most popular and iconic smartphone.

Who loses?

In some way, shape, or form, everyone loses – everyone except Twitter, that is (which also stands to see its photo sharing platform take off thanks to this deal). Apple loses because it’s accepting second best. We’ll say it one more time: Twitter is a social networking giant and a force to be reckoned with in its market. It still doesn’t have the user pull and amount of consumer data Facebook does, two incredibly valuable assets. And iOS users lose because while integrated Twitter service will easily please a great many of them, statistically, there are going to be more people without Twitter accounts than there are without Facebook accounts, so there will be more who couldn’t care less about a Twitter function and would prefer Facebook than the other way around.

But the player that stands to lose the most in this deal is Facebook. Facebook has made Internet identity into the commodity it is today, and it has served as the platform that creates and connects other companies to that. Facebook Connect has given sites access to its social graph and in turn made them “social,” and the implementation of Facebook Comments across the Internet has made people turn to their Facebook profile as their digital identity of choice. Apple using Twitter xAuth protocol as a sign-in system is a coup for Twitter and a loss for Facebook Connect. As mobile Web consumption and production become more and more prevalent, Twitter having a handle on your identity here (given you’re an iOS user) gives it some advantage.

Developers may also have preferred iOS 5-Facebook integration, seeing as Facebook accounts yield far more information they could make use of. Of course there’s always an upside: Challenge in this sector is good, especially for consumers, who might not want one social network becoming the only option out there for their online identities.

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