Could iOS Photo Sharing Be Apple’s Next Ping-like Social Failure?

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Apple’s enjoyed success in almost everything it’s done lately, with the exception of social networking.

The company may try to change that with iOS 6, the next version of its iPhone and iPad software. Unnamed “people familiar with the matter” tell the Wall Street Journal that Apple plans to let users share and comment on each others’ photos through iCloud. Users would be able to sync groups of photos to other users’ devices, whereas the existing iCloud Photo Stream doesn’t allow sharing.

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The feature would be a competitor to Instagram and the photo-sharing element of Facebook. But unless Apple allows users to share photos to other platforms such as Android (highly unlikely) or desktop web browsers (slightly more likely), the photo sharing would be limited to Apple devices. It’s also unclear if users would be able to share photos to Facebook or other networks, beyond the built-in Twitter sharing in iOS.

That could end up being a fatal flaw in Apple’s plan, just as it was when the company launched Ping, a social network built around music, in 2010. Ping is a ghost town for several reasons, including its reliance on the bloated iTunes software and its inability to play full songs instead of short clips. But the fact that Ping was isolated from web browsers, other phone platforms and other social networks was just as devastating. People didn’t need a closed-off social network to share music. They already had better tools to discuss music elsewhere.

If Apple is creating a network for photo-sharing, it’ll run into the same issues. Granted, Instagram became wildly popular even as an iPhone exclusive, but I doubt that would have happened if users were only able to share photos among themselves. Instagram’s hooks into other social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter — not to mention the allure of hipster filters — are what made the app go viral. You didn’t have to be an iPhone user to know about Instagram.

I can still see some usefulness in a photo sharing feature even if it’s limited to other Apple users. As with other file-sharing services such as Dropbox and Google Drive, it’d be a good way to deliver photos to people who you know are using the service. But as a social network — that is, a way to share photos with a wide range of friends, family and acquaintances — it could be another social failure for Apple.

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