May 31, 2011
I've been waiting a year for someone to write about this, but my laziness has not yet paid off, so here are a few things that we all know about everybody's favorite Cupertino fruit company:
- Apple has client app software on hundreds of millions of devices in the form of iTunes on PCs and Macs and, well, all of the bundled software on iOS devices.
- Apple has an extremely large-scale realtime messaging service, in the form of Apple Push Notifications, which has scaled with high reliability to what must be an extremely large number of messages, certainly on the order of hundreds of millions a day.
- Apple has account info for every person receiving those notifications, usually including credit card information.
- Apple has lots of experience making client applications for short-length interpersonal messaging.
- Apple has a proven ability to get the attention and interest of artists and tastemakers who influence culture and inspire a following.
And here are a few things which Apple doesn't have:
- Any success or demonstrated ability in making compelling clients for social networking, whether in the form of Game Center or Ping.
- A usable API for developers to build on this realtime networking infrastructure in a lightweight way in web apps, or in languages other than Objective C.
But in short, the hardest, most expensive technical part of building a web-scale Twitter competitor already exists in Apple's infrastructure. What's missing, in an odd reversal of Apple's usual pattern, is a well-designed, simple user experience that makes people want to participate.
Could a small team of developers and designers within Apple make a credible realtime messaging service with first-rate native clients on every important platform? Could they graft on a simple, REST-based web-style APIs to the complicated, old-fashioned API that enables push notifications right now? It'd be a lot like building a usable, delightful user interface on top of well-established, but complicated, technological underpinnings, wouldn't it? I wonder if Apple has those skills.