Facebook’s revamped OS-in-the-cloud is bad news for Microsoft and good news for Apple
I’m not going to trouble you with a long list of Facebook’s announcements at its f8 conference today: Techmeme is your best bet for that. But in general, the trend seems to be toward making Facebook the connective tissue between you, the websites and apps you use, and your friends.
In other words, Facebook is increasingly becoming the sort-of web equivalent of an operating system, including its own application platform, which has been around for many years and continues to improve. (This whole web OS thing seemed like it was going to be Google’s role, but right now, Facebook seems to be making bigger strides.)
Over time, the biggest potential loser here could be Microsoft, which is supposed to be one of Facebook’s closest partners.
The more that Facebook and the web consume your time, attention, and effort for communication and entertainment, the less you need to be using a device that runs Windows, which is the old way of organizing your apps and resources. In other words, Facebook is actively making Windows irrelevant.
This could be a long-term problem for Microsoft, because Windows and Office are still driving substantially all of its profits. And I don’t see anything from Microsoft yet that latches on to Facebook and keeps forcing people to use Windows-based computers. (Microsoft still has a decent hold on “work,” and that’s important. But Google is disrupting Microsoft there, and perhaps Facebook will enter that area eventually, too.)
Meanwhile, many will say that today’s announcements put Facebook and Apple in greater competition, because of the visible success Apple has had with the iPhone and iPad App Stores, and Facebook’s apparent increasing competition there.
But I mostly disagree with that. Maybe it’s a “headline loss” for Apple that Facebook is making its apps more social, and Apple isn’t. But the reality is that Apple doesn’t make its money from selling apps. Apple makes money from selling hardware — iPhones, iPads, Macs, and iPads. All those apps — including Facebook, the most popular iPhone app of all — are there to grease the wheels and sell more hardware.
Right now, the best computers for using Facebook and its web platform are made by Apple: Macs, iPads, and iPhones, which are nicer than Windows-based computers and are increasingly price-competitive. So, as long as Facebook doesn’t come to dominate the hardware business, and as long as Apple’s devices remain the best for using Facebook, Apple stands to gain from Facebook’s prosperity.
Of course, over time, this may change, and Facebook may eventually cause harm to Apple’s business. Apple certainly still hasn’t sold anyone on its ability to challenge Facebook in anything “social.” (We’ll see how its Twitter integration in iOS 5 changes anything.) But over the next few years, unless Facebook starts making amazing hardware that becomes very popular, it seems that Apple stands to benefit and Microsoft stands to lose from Facebook’s success.