Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Surprise! Apple Has Also Built Social Contact Integration With Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and Myspace Into iOS 5

Apple rather publicly aligned itself with Twitter this week, announcing that Twitter accounts would be deeply integrated into version 5 of its operating system for iPhone, iPod and iPad. But the developer release of iOS 5 shows that other social Web services will also be included, though to a lesser extent.

The contact information page in the iOS 5 address book has a field not just for Twitter, but also offers space to add friends’ handles on Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and Myspace.

Alongside a person’s email address and phone number, an iOS user can also add links to their accounts around the Web. Then Apple auto-populates the URL for each of the services. Clicking on the account name opens up Safari to that person’s profile page.

AllThingsD confirmed the feature’s existence after a developer mentioned it to us. It’s not hidden in the source code or anything, but plain for users of the developer beta to see.

The developer, who asked not to be named, pointed out that the social integrations are a bit buggy. For instance, adding a Myspace handle brings up an unlimited number of fields, and the social fields only come up when you create a new contact. But again, this is a developer release.

The inclusion of the feature shows Apple’s acknowledgement of the importance of Web presences and contact information. But it could be much more useful if users don’t have to enter each of their friends’ handles manually, as appears to be the case at least in this release.

Imagine entering in your credentials and seeing your social network friends and contacts automatically synced and merged with your phone contacts. This will be the case for Twitter when iOS 5 comes out — Apple will even update users contacts’ photos with their Twitter profile pics (a screenshot from the WWDC keynote is below). Apple may well add authentication for other services as well.

Sucking all these contacts up and matching them together to create a sort of Frankenstein social network would not be trivial; Apple would presumably need to match users’ phone numbers, handles, and/or email addresses across various services to disambiguate them.

Android has offered an automated contact feature which takes the phone numbers listed on Facebook friends’ profile pages and adds them to its on-phone address book. However, Google pulled the feature back from Nexus phones in a recent release as part of its ongoing data portability war with Facebook.

In addition, Google is also working to compile centralized profiles of users’ social Web contacts through its Google Profiles feature — that’s in fact the issue Facebook tried to expose with a secret smear campaign. Facebook’s PR firm proxy alleged Google was sketchily scraping the Web in order to “compile the data into one massive dossier aligned directly with user’s personally identifiable information.”

Facebook, Google and Apple all want to own and protect their relationships with their users, which is why exchanging contact lists arouses such drama. Before striking a deal with Twitter, Apple was going to use Facebook as a social distribution and identity service for its Ping music social network, but that deal fell apart, with Apple CEO Steve Jobs explaining that Facebook demanded “onerous terms.”

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.


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