Instead of waiting for the so-called “Facebook phone” to come out, there’s already a pretty decent mobile handset running an operating system that’s somewhat social today and will be far more social this fall. It’s called the iPhone, and the upcoming software update is so social that iOS should be renamed WeOS.
For people looking for a high-end smartphone, there’s no contest anymore. Apple’s update, iOS 6, will ensure Google’s Android is limited to budget and mid-tier smartphones (the update applies to the iPad too, but Apple already has a de facto monopoly there). Even if Google catches up, most of its consumers will remain far behind. Apple’s Scott Forstall said that 80% of its customers are running the latest software version (iOS 5), compared to the 7% of Android users who are running the latest version (4.0).
Apple’s tour of iOS 6 promotes 10 key upgraded services and four additional ones, so let’s go through each one and see how social it is.
Maps: Not social. They look gorgeous though, and the free turn-by-turn navigation is one less reason to go with Android.
Siri: Somewhat social. Siri will now be able to post and review Facebook updates and tweets.
Facebook: Entirely social. Facebook isn’t just part of Siri; it’s embedded everywhere in iOS 6. Apple writes, “Share a photo to Facebook right from Camera or Photos. Post your location right from Maps. Brag about a high score right from Game Center... Never miss another birthday or get-together, since Facebook events are integrated into Calendar.” Really, what more could Facebook users want out of a phone? Also note that the map integration further boosts Facebook’s location services over rivals like Foursquare, even if Foursquare claims to be about recommendations instead of check-ins now.
Shared photo streams: Entirely social. Select photos and share them with who you want. Photos are viewable on the Web if someone isn’t running a compatible Apple device. Friends can like and comment on photos.
Passbook: Nominally social. This new version of a mobile wallet stores boarding passes, movie and concert tickets, coupons, loyalty cards, and gift cards. It’s conceivable that some stored items could include social hooks –“check-in to the concert with a friend” or “share this coupon on Facebook” -- but this is more of a digital locker than a promotional vehicle.
FaceTime: Inherently social. Video chat over cellular networks and not just Wi-Fi. It still only works with iOS devices.
Phone: Inherently social. Remember the whole phone functionality of the iPhone? There are new features like replying to calls with text messages and setting reminders to call someone back.
Mail: Inherently social. New features include VIP lists for favorite contacts and easy ways to attach multimedia to email.
Safari: Nominally social. The one potentially social upgrade is that photos and videos can be uploaded from the Web browser without switching to another application. As this becomes more widespread across operating systems, it could remove one reason for developing native mobile applications.
Accessibility: Not social. People with various disabilities will appreciate the upgrades.
Find My iPhone: Nominally social. It’s easier to contact someone who finds your iOS device and wants to return it.
Find My Friends: Entirely social. Upgrades include location-based alerts for when key contacts such as family members leave a venue or arrive home.
Remodeled stores: Not social. The iTunes Store, App Store, and iBookstore benefit from user reviews, but the upgrades aren’t social.
New features for China: Very social. This last update might as well be called ChiOS with all the support for Chinese speakers and Chinese internet services. This includes a number of China’s social services, since Facebook remains in the proverbial Mongolia well outside the great firewall of China.
Not all of the features are social, and some merely play catch-up to Android, but Apple’s got the best track record of creating products and features that people widely adopt. That bodes well for iOS 6, which can just as well be considered WeOS 1.
No transit maps on the Apple version of Maps. Most people will still go to Google Maps.
I love your thoughts on the social nature of the new OS, but I have to disagree with your assertion that iOS 6 has placed Apple in a tier far above Android. Aside from Siri & Passbook, most of the 10 features you've listed have been present in Android for the last 2~3 generations (something you only briefly allude to at the end of your post). Heck, free turn-by-turn navigation has been a hallmark of Android since the beginning.
Your quote from Scott Forstall is also misleading. While I agree that fragmentation is a major concern with Android, why do you ignore Apple's own fragmentation issues? Apple and the mobile carriers are still selling iPhone 4 new in stores, but the maps and Siri enhancements are only available on the newest hardware (4S and beyond); is it really fair to claim that all Apple hardware is being updated equally? This is especially egregious in the case of Siri where all of the processing is done on Apple's servers and not within the phone itself. Even the new map functions have been available in 3rd party apps for some time, why couldn't this be rolled out to the old hardware too?
If my iOS 6 (on an older phone) is substantially different from yours, are we really running the same OS?