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The iPhone and Social Networks: Fast Friends?

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Mar 27, 2008 4:00 AM PT

When Patrick Byers' 3 1/2-year-old starts to melt down in a public place, he is quick to defuse the time bomb with a sure fire maneuver: He slips the kid his iPod, and all is well. Both of his children, he proudly reports, are adept at using the gadget, including accessing his preapproved list of favorite videos on YouTube. Since Apple created the iPhone, it is hardly surprising that using it is easy and intuitive.

The iPhone and Social Networks: Fast Friends?

Now, a few social networking sites -- most notably Twitter and Facebook -- have introduced apps specifically tailored for it, and the general consensus is that they work amazingly well. Little wonder then that iPhone devotees are looking forward to a next-generation set of social networking applications based on its new software development kit. There may soon be a brave new world populated by location-based, video-sharing social networking utilities.

Already, the iPhone is the perfect mobile vehicle to navigate social networking sites, says Byers, who is the CEO of Outsource Marketing.

Byers uses his iPhone to manage his blog -- approving comments and so on via the phone's browser.

"I do things I never could have done using my other smartphones," he tells MacNewsWorld. Most recently, he carried a Treo 650 and Treo 700. "Those were nice, and I am a fan of them -- but when the iPhone came out, I realized there was no comparison."

Some of the social networking apps he can access with the iPhone browser include Plaxo, LinkedIn and NetVibes (not technically a social media site, but it has a great portal, Byers says).

The one application that doesn't function smoothly on the iPhone, he notes, is Exchange Mail. It works -- but not well.

"That will be fixed -- and once it is, it will be a BlackBerry killer," Byers predicts. "My wife uses a BlackBerry, and she would much rather have an iPhone."

Byers is representative of users that are not particularly vocal in the Apple community. Basically, they just want to use the phone to access the Internet -- never mind the sex appeal of the new applications developed for it.

Another who falls in that category is Albert Maruggi, president of Provident Partners. Having purchased his phone in January, he now does 80 percent of his work from it.

He accesses Twitter and Facebook all the time from the device, Maruggi tells MacNewsWorld.

SDK Impact

Moving beyond these mainstream social networking apps, there is also iRovr.com, which was created from the ground up to be accessed through the iPhone browser, according to Rob Walch, host of Today in iPhone.

For users who are willing to unlock or "jailbreak" their phones, a "weird social networking app" called "Burp" is available, he tells MacNewsWorld. "Users take pictures of the latest meal they have eaten and post them on the site." The photography is not limited to food, he adds drily. Some of the tamer shots include Absolut Vodka -- and a parakeet.

"When the SKD rolls out [to consumers] in June, I am sure we will see thousands of apps -- a lot of them devoted to social networking."

It makes sense, Walch adds: Applications like Facebook thus far have been chained to a desktop. Most people, especially younger people who use these sites, are more likely to rely on their phones for Internet access than a desktop.

With more than 100,000 downloads of the SDK already, excitement in the developer community is reaching fever pitch, notes Dennis Bajec, executive director of creative services at Resource Interactive.

"Native apps will allow for faster, more robust experiences that will demonstrate how a new breed of social devices will transform the way we interact with the world around us," he tells MacNewsWorld. "The integration of [Global Positioning System], camera, touchscreen-UI (user interface), and Web connectivity is a recipe made for social networking."

Affinity-based communities can attract a strong following, Bajec adds, pointing to Ning. A create-your-own social networking site that is powered by Google's OpenSocial platform, Ning has gained a lot of momentum and currently has almost 20,000 user-created networks.

"The cult-like following Apple products evoke certainly provides fertile ground, and if Apple's Facebook group -- which has almost 425,000 members-- is an indicator, there's definitely interest," he observes.

Other future iPhone technologies might include location-based utilities such as friend-finder apps and video-sharing, Chris Wong, president and CEO of Pathconnect.com, tells MacNewsWorld.

This is already happening with other mobile phones, he says. "The iPhone just makes it more compelling. There are things that can be done uniquely on the iPhone now that will soon leveraged."

It's how the industry naturally develops, he adds. "Focus on the killer, unique or differentiated application which extends what you are already doing."

Dropping the Price

These social networking apps are likely to intersect with declining price points for the iPhone -- another important trend for Apple and its users, MocoSpace CEO Justin Siegel, who has been working in the consumer mobile Internet space since its earliest incarnation in 2000, tells MacNewsWorld. Already the cost has been slashed since its rollout less than a year ago.

"There will be steep adoption of the iPhone when it becomes more affordable," he says, and with that wave of buying will come the availability of second- and third-generation mobile social applications.

"Location-based services will be very popular," Siegel predicts, as well as "anything that plays to its greatest strength -- the big screen and easy-to-use interface. Really, when it comes down to it -- almost any social application will be more fun and interesting on the iPhone."


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