Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Apple was in talks with Twitter to make an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in the network born of brevity and hashtags. The talks had been ongoing for the good part of a year and ended without any deal. Because Apple’s foray into social, “Ping” failed to take off – partnering with an established social network probably makes sense. But I wonder if Twitter is the right partner for Apple to marry?
Different business philosophy
Apple products are beautifully designed, sleek and very intuitive to use. Despite this, the brilliance of their non-Mac strategy was the .mp4 file and their iTunes store. Once you start buying, it is a pain to switch. Sure you could buy an Android phone or a Zune, but the amount of time and effort you would have to go through to convert those mp4 files to mp3 files isn’t worth it. If you have an iPod or iPhone, chances are it’s not your first and won’t be your last.
Twitter came to prominence with a simple, intuitive interface. They opened their read/write API to nearly everyone and some brilliant people came up with some extraordinarily innovative ways to interact on Twitter. Everything from Buffer to GrabInbox and everything in between has been born of someone’s imaginative use of the Twitter API. Twitter has started to ratchet back their API access with LinkedIn and Instagram, but it is still widely used. The big question when considering the marriage between Apple and Twitter is how a company that is so shrewd in how it restricts customer choice can integrate with a network that gained a foothold in the social market with it’s openness.
Twitter probably won’t become a mainstream network
While frequency of use has increased, the number of Twitter users has remained steady between 2011 and 2012. Whether Twitter ends up partnering with a company like Apple or going public, it does not have a growth trajectory that is going to catapult it into the Facebook conversation. It’s a fantastic platform for real-time discussion, and also one with significant penetration with African-American and Hispanic users. Though smartphones have a higher adoption rate in the demographic populations where Twitter is strong, it’s doubtful that a company would invest in another simply for the audience that it currently has (unless you’re Micrsoft making a play for Yahoo), so that might be another reason to think that a Twitter / Apple marriage wouldn’t end happily ever after.
What would Dr. Phil say?
When pontificating about marriage, Dr. Phil says, “If you put your relationship in a win/lose situation, it will be a lose/lose situation.” To capitalize on a relationship between Apple and Twitter, one of the two would have to compromise and most likely that would be Twitter. It’s not plausible that Twitter could be leveraged on iOS in the same way that .mp4 files and Safari is. Safari can access your Facebook friends as well as any other browser can, but Twitter can’t. The most likely change would be leveraging the Twitter API to benefit Apple. A scenario like that would no doubt hurt Twitter, which seems intent to learn the psychology behind loss aversion as they fritter away API access (as evidenced by LinkedIn and Instagram).
Apple may regret that they didn’t put a ring on it (to quote Ivy Blue’s mom). And Twitter may regret that they didn’t get Apple’s cash. But sometimes no matter how much you like two people you know they shouldn’t get married, and it’s pretty evident that this marriage would have ended badly.