After the royally botched Facebook IPO, which was followed by a precipitous drop in the social media giant’s stock price (and expectations), it is entirely understandable that tech observers might be a little wary of prognosticating on what the next great digital thing will be. But that’s no reason to discount early-stage talks between Apple and Twitter first reported by the New York Times in a cover story today. According to people in the know, Apple is considering investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Twitter — chump change for a company with well over $100 billion in the bank — as a way of breaking into the social media game.
The idea that Apple, creator of beautiful gadgetry and sleek hardware, would want to jump into the fast-changing world of social media might just raise alarm bells. Consider other recent tech crossovers: Bing, Microsoft’s attempt at a search engine, which should be renamed the Belly Flop Heard Around the World, and Google Plus, the search giant’s anemic Facebook competitor. Google’s plans to build a smartphone (and rumors that Facebook is considering the same) have similarly been panned as bizarre and a distraction.
But as Apple CEO Timothy Cook reassuringly told the Times, “Apple doesn’t have to own a social network. But does Apple need to be social? Yes.” Which is why Apple’s failed social media music service, Ping, was rolled out in partnership with Twitter and why Apple has already integrated Twitter (and Facebook) into its newest operating system, 10.8 Mountain Lion. It also wouldn’t be crazy to imagine future Twitter-ready iterations of Apple’s vaunted iOS operating system for the iPhone.
Meanwhile, Twitter — which considers itself the “lucky mistress” favored after Facebook jilted Apple — has appointed a vice-president, Kevin Thau, to work full time on the company’s relationship with Apple. Thau will also likely get a leg up from CFO Ali Rowghani, who, before joining Twitter in 2010, had worked for nine years at Pixar under Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
Ultimately, cynics may see in these talks a simple ploy by Apple to get in on the next overpriced tech IPO — Twitter is, after all, expected to go public sometime in the coming years, accompanied by a boatload of fanfare. But, on closer inspection, an Apple-Twitter alliance might just be the perfect match Silicon Valley has been waiting for.