Apple Might Be Hurting Itself 'Friending' Facebook

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) - It's been over three weeks since technology giant Apple held its annual Worldwide Developers Conference where it announced, among other things, that it was ditching Google's popular map app from its upcoming mobile IOS6 to be replaced by its own in-house mapping software.

While I felt this news was only going to fan the flames of an existing mutual hatred by further infuriating Google, which generates roughly 50% its mobile map traffic from iPhones and iPads, nonetheless, I felt it was a move that not only made sense for Apple but one that it had to make.

With there being no lost-love between the two companies, it gave Apple some sleepless nights wondering that at any point Google could pull the plug on its map licensing deal solely out of spite. Having that dependency just wasn't good business.

However, the WWDC was not just an event for tossing knives at Google. Apple was also making new friends. While it was in the process of casting off Google, it was also embracing one of Google's chief rivals in social media giant Facebook . In an article titled 2 Companies Apple Will Not Let Die And 1 It Just Killed TheStreet writer Rocco Pendola articulated the meaning of that announcement perfectly.

He wrote:

Apple is so nimble that it's able to coolly and calmly pick and choose the things it will keep in-house and what it will outsource to mere mortals. Apple, for all intents and purposes, threw aircraft flotation devices out to both Yelp and Open Table by integrating them into iOS 6. It also raised the stakes, in a good way, by finally integrating Facebook and saying such nice things about Twitter.

I agreed with Pendola on his assessments in contrasting the prominent rise of Facebook with the old and slow movements of Google. But iGoogle has not been sitting idly and doing nothing. In fact it has shown it wants a piece of the social media market by having developed Google+. Although it is not yet as popular as either Facebook or Twitter, it is starting to gain some traction as reports recently suggest that at least 200 million people are on the service. While it is significantly down from the 900 million currently on Facebook, it is far from being embarrassing -- a fact that has not escaped Apple.

Apple wants to put an immediate end to Google's progress. In shrewd fashion, first it seeks to cut off Google's mobile traffic by ditching Google maps from future mobile devices. Then it partners with Facebook, Google's #1 rival in social media, and integrates it with the best-selling smartphone and mobile devices on the market. -- essentially "friending" an enemy of my enemy. If that is not clever I don't know what is.

The Trojan Horse?

For Apple, displaying the shrew side of its business was just one aspect of its Facebook integration. The other reason is because more than any other company, Apple is smart.

The company has realized that consumers have developed an addiction to two things: their smartphones and social media. It understands that the technological winner will likely be the company that can be the effective supplier of both of these drug-like fixes.

By adopting Facebook into its operating system, Apple has made it possible for all 900 million users to only need to authenticate once with their Facebook credentials and then be able to post content from within their apps.

Clearly Apple wants to get more on the social scene, but at what cost? The more that I think about it, the more I'm realizing that while Apple might have had this scheme under its sleeve to irk Google, it is also risking hurting itself in the process as it just might have the potential to backfire.

At first glance, this deal is certainly great for Facebook and its users. But the integration works in both directions. For example, if I add an event in my Facebook calendar and have anniversaries or birthdays of friends on Facebook, it will also appear on my iPhone's calendar. It can even popup as a reminder. Even more remarkable is that as friends on Facebook update their contact information, that new change will sync with the contact list on my iPhone.

That's all well and good, but here's the problem: security and privacy.

For years Apple prided itself on how secure its machines have been when compared to its PC rivals. It is no secret that one of the biggest concerns for Facebook continues to be its challenges with security and privacy.

While Apple is betting that a great percentage of Facebook's 900 million users will buy iPhones over other models due to its ease of integration, with that increase volume comes greater threats because Facebook will "always be on." What's more, if a threat can easily enter Facebook, what is to stop it from possibly infecting the iPhone calendar, contacts and even mail?

I find it incredibly hard to think that Apple had not considered these possibilities. Nonetheless, the potential for a Facebook intrusion exists. Also, as noted previously, not all 900 million Facebook users are PhD candidates. At some point someone is going to do something, or share something that they wish they hadn't, whether a image or an email. What will be Apple's response? Will it be liable?

Bottom Line

No doubt this is certainly a solid win for Facebook while being a solid punch in the gut for Google. I see this being possibly the beginning of a MySpace-type transition for Google+.

I remain intrigued to see what Google's response will be. It has recently launched a pre-emptive strike towards Apple's TV initiative by partnering with Sirius XM in a content-sharing joint venture. How successful that is remains to be seen. But clearly Apple has its attention.

Meanwhile, Apple should be careful not to get overly focused at launching malice towards Google to the extent it forgets that its brilliance lies in being the puppet master, not the better puppet. While Facebook might eventually prove to be a good "friend," Apple needs to remember that sometimes it's best to take the approach of every man for himself.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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