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Twitter has problems. Apple has money. So what would happen if Twitter had Apple’s money? Yes, I’m talking about Apple buying Twitter. It’s an idea I brought up about two years ago to anyone who would listen. People were pretty stunned by the idea. Could the company that changed the face of music do the same with social media?
Maybe not. While it’s typical to think anything Apple touches turns to gold, that’s not always the case. And why would a company as cool as Twitter need a buyer?
Remember Ping? That was Apple’s attempt at a social network circa 2010. Built into iTunes, Steve Jobs described it at the time as something like Twitter and Facebook but not the same. The idea was an all-new social network about music. MySpace was on the decline and Jobs saw it as an opening. It was one of his rare missteps, but more importantly Ping became the butt of social media jokes and Apple quickly became known as a company out of touch with social media. The people were right. The company that came up with iPod and iPhone was unable to make any kind of mark in the growing social media space.
Ping lasted only two years, although that time frame is generous, people stopped using it long before that. Here in 2016, the response to my idea isn’t much different than it was in 2014. “What does Apple need with Twitter?” and “Who would benefit from Apple owning Twitter?” When I first brought up the idea, Twitter was cool. Apple was still going through that post-Jobs era where people thought the company was losing its cool. The marriage made sense and Apple taking a seat at the table with Facebook and Google just made sense. And because Apple also owned the hardware, having that little blue bird on every iOS device would ensure billions of users.
What a difference two years makes. The tables are almost completely turned. Twitter has gone from cool to often maligned. Celebrities have left the platform because the company hasn’t done nearly enough to address abuse and trolling. Meanwhile, Apple has greatly improved its social media game, going from zero presence on Twitter to creating several relatively popular accounts.
But doesn’t that mean if Apple has improved its social media game and Twitter has lost its mojo, that my idea makes perfect sense? Wouldn’t it be a win-win?
Jobs was always fond of saying that Apple makes experiences better. It’s great at making you want things you didn’t think you needed and then making you wonder how you could live without them.
So, no. Apple shouldn’t buy Twitter. Apple would have to turn Twitter into something you couldn’t live without. And while I personally can’t imagine living without it, there’s a big difference between an iPhone and a tweet.
That said, what if Apple viewed Twitter as a bunch of smaller pieces to a very big puzzle? What might that look like?
- Apple would own the Twitter app, and there’s plenty of room for improvement there.
- Siri could be built into Twitter.
- Twitter could be built into Apple TV. Conversations about the things you see watching and downloading would automatically be part of the experience.
- Once the Apple Car (the project the company won’t talk about) is on the road in a few years, you could conceivably use Twitter to drive and operate it.
Just like that, Twitter would go from social platform to indispensable. Look at how people in China use Weibo. That’s a Twitter-like service with incredible functionality that’s really not that incredible at all. Weibo users wouldn’t dream of using anything else to transfer money. Or to shop. Weibo has become something people can’t live without and that would probably impress Steve Jobs in a big way.
Back to Twitter, there’s still the problems with trolling and abuse. Now, an Apple-owned Twitter could be built around an Apple ID. That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. You have to sign into your Apple account to use Apple Music and iCloud and a host of other services. Requiring a credit card makes it much less likely that someone is going to create a fake account just to behave badly. Currently, the only thing stopping someone from doing that is an email address.
So we’ve established that with the right mindset and the right team that it could be done. But it shouldn’t be done. There are bigger fish to fry.
But if not Twitter, then what? Apple has more than $200 billion in cash at its disposal, so it has to buy something, right? You know, it’s funny. I don’t know about you, but when money burns a hole in my pocket I go to an Apple Store.
Anyway, Apple has to do what makes sense. Sometimes that means sitting on a giant pile of money and sometimes that means making a purchase that seems so outrageous it can’t possibly be real.
Like Beats, which Apple spent $3 billion on in 2014 — that’s billion with a b. The internet was appalled by the idea and even more by the price tag. The world just assumed Tim Cook had lost his mind and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. They all became experts and declared it something Jobs would never have done. For the record, I absolutely believe Jobs would have done it, I just don’t believe he would have spent $3 billion.
Here was the company that changed the world with the iPod and then changed how people consumed music with iTunes spending more than the cost of some small countries on a company known for its oversized headphones, a less-than-stellar music service and Dr. Dre.
Seems outrageous and silly, but it’s really so brilliant. Look what Apple got for that $3 billion:
- Those iconic Beats headphones that everyone wears, giving Apple an in with a segment of consumer it never had an in with before.
- That less-than-stellar music service is now Apple Music, which is a very real competitor to Spotify.
- And perhaps the most important thing: A dedicated and strong Beats community that will end up evangelizing Apple and its products.
Apple knows a thing or two about the power of communities and engagement. Apple “fanboys” are fans for life. Only a handful of companies have a fan base with that kind of loyalty. If Apple would have purchased Twitter, it wouldn’t have benefitted from any of that.
What else could Apple buy? It’s fun to play the game when it’s not your money.
- Any major cable company: This actually has been talked about, but a cable company could allow Apple to take its Apple TV to the next level.
- Any major cell phone carrier: Some people I talk to still can’t believe Apple isn’t its own cell phone carrier. This is probably the example closest to Twitter: Sure it could make the jump, but what would it gain that it doesn’t already have without ownership?
- A car company: I’m not quite sure this won’t happen. Tesla is proof that a company can build a car from the ground up, but there’s nothing wrong with a strong foundation.
- Starbucks: Only because I’d give anything to see what a combination Starbucks-Apple Store looks like. Hint: We’d be ordering our drinks on iPads. But we can already do that now, so the question bears repeating: Where’s the value?
So after two years it’s finally time for me to retire my idea that Apple should buy Twitter. Twitter’s shareholders are looking for more direction and faster changes. Someone will probably end up buying it. I don’t know who it will be because I don’t know who would want the responsibility. Finally, it’s settled. Apple should not buy Twitter. Now, Weibo… Well, that’s another story.
Do you think Apple should buy Twitter? Let us know in the comments below!