Analyzing Apple’s Social (Media) Anxiety Disorder

Watching Apple (s aapl) in many ways is like watching baseball. When Apple is on, it’s like watching Roger Clemens throw a 20-strikeout game, or watching Pedro Martinez paint the corners, brushing players off the plate. When it comes to any sort of social media, though, Apple has all the accuracy of Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn from the movie Major League.

While Microsoft’s (s msft) “Welcome to the Social” advertisements were often derided, it’s ironic that Microsoft, and not Apple, has a better history with social media interactions. Here are the three areas Apple tried to make a play with social media, and instead fell just “a bit outside.”

Sharing Music

I thought the Zune’s idea of “squirting” music, while poorly named, was a brilliant idea. How often have you been out with someone, talked about music and had the inevitable, “So, have you hear the new song by so-and-so? No? OMG, you gotta hear it” moment? The idea of beaming songs between iDevices is something I’d love for Apple to introduce. if Microsoft can make this happen, why can’t Apple? Sharing playlists via iTunes could be the mix tapes of the 2010s, and not in the way that’s currently allowed via Ping, where you basically just provide a list of things to buy for your friends.

Game Center

Microsoft’s Xbox division has nailed interaction between gamers. When I look at my friends on the Xbox Live Dashboard I can see what games they’ve played, how many achievements they’ve earned, and basically how far through games they’ve progressed. If they’re online, I can use the dashboard to start a game with them.

Game Center is a mess; it doesn’t really behave in the way I’d expect. For starters, it doesn’t seem to auto-detect what Game Center-capable games I have installed; I need to run games at least once to get it to register. If I open my friends list, it will tell me what games I have in common with a friend, but not allow me to compare high scores, achievements and the like. I can open up a game from my Games tab, but all I can compare is leaderboard information. Also, it’s not Apple’s fault, but a lot of games aren’t compatible with Game Center. It would be a lot easier to start a Words With Friends game with people already on my Game Center friends list.

It’s too bad Game Center falls as short as it does. Apple hinted when it first introduced the feature would be the center of the iOS game experience, but that’s not the case. Maybe iOS 5 will bring some improvements, but as it stands right now, it’s pretty much useless.

Ping… Ponged?

At least with Game Center’s early demos, it looked like Apple had its head on straight. When Apple talked up Ping, even the famed Reality Distortion Field failed to Distort.

The first problem with Ping is that it’s way too broad with music categories. Sure I like rock. but I’m more of a heavy metal guy, which isn’t an option. The second, and real, problem with Ping is that it’s one of the few things Apple does that really, transparently, is all about the money.

Even as a money-grab, it’s not very effective. Jim Dalrymple at The Loop has musical tastes similar to mine. When I follow him on Ping, all I see are the people he’s followed and his last purchases. What I’d really like to see, though, are all the songs in the Heavy Metal genre he’s ranked five stars, or metal songs he’s played recently. I’d be much more likely to actually buy those.

Ping also seems a natural choice for Genius integration. Why not use my Ping connections as an additional means of filtering results? In theory at least, it could provide much more interesting and personally relevant results.

Going Social

It’s a little weird that while Apple pays close attention to the overall user experience of their devices and OS, when it comes to any sort of social interaction, the company has been a gigantic failure; just look at how long proper Flickr (s yhoo) and Facebook sharing took to come to iPhoto. The best explanation I can come up with is that Steve Jobs just doesn’t get social media, so all the social media aspects of Apple’s business aren’t subject to his scrutiny, leaving unfinished and poorly planned services allowed to ship. Now that Phil Schiller is a Twitter user and Jobs is taking some time off from steering the ship,┬ámaybe we’ll start to see Apple getting over its social media ineptitude.