Apple’s Unsocial Network

Apple skepticism is de rigueur these days, as stumbles in hardware and software (particularly MacOS software) leave observers wondering if the company has lost a step, or lost the plot entirely. Yet quietly, in areas that tend to be overlooked by technology enthusiasts, Apple has put together a compelling suite of services that appeal to the non hobbyist end user. In this environment of growing suspicion and hostility to social media monopolists, Apple’s unsocial offerings make a compelling case for a connection in which the user is not being exploited. I wonder if Apple is not poised to capture some more attention from people disillusioned and embittered by social media.

Apple’s iCloud services are social adjacent; they’re social, but not in the same avaricious and toxic way that characterizes social media today. iMessage is obviously social, in that it’s a messaging service, and probably the tip of the spear that could pry people away form other messaging services. But it is a private mail system, one in which Apple plays the simple role of courier. This is in marked contrast to Facebook and Twitter, who are mining and parsing your communications looking for angles and hooks their advertisers can use to sell things to you.

iCloud Photo Library, particularly iCloud photo sharing, represent a really excellent replacement for Facebook. The walled garden approach to shared media, which once seemed a drawback to Photos, now seems like a value proposition. “No one outside your circle can see these photos” seemed like a criticism in 2015, but sounds like a marketing tag line today. Additionally, features like comments and likes allow Photos to behave like a mini Facebook, but one without news, people you barely know fighting in your comments, or a malevolent corporation selling your data to foreign adversaries looking to break your political system. Instead, it’s made up of your friends and family only, it’s just pictures, and it’s nice. I really encourage anyone who uses Apple Photos to try using it in place of Facebook. It’s a lot better.

Apple News is not bad, either. As Farhad Manjoo wrote in the New York Times, “Just about every problem we battle in understanding the news today — and every one we will battle tomorrow — is exacerbated by plugging into the social-media herd. The built-in incentives on Twitter and Facebook reward speed over depth, hot takes over facts and seasoned propagandists over well-meaning analyzers of news.”1

It’s interesting, as Apple’s unwillingness to mine every scrap of data they have on their users has been portrayed by tech commentators as a weakness. We may now be seeing, as we re-evaluate of the costs of social media, to be an argument in Apple’s favor.

1 Admittedly, the NYT, home of “but her emails” coverage and promoter of the neo-fascist “intellectual dark web” is a bit rich, but Manjoo has diagnosed the problems with social media news correctly. Would that the NYT would apply the same amount of analytical rigor to themselves.

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