New iPhone OS Facebook Integrations May Be On the Way

The idea of adding Facebook’s social features to Apple products has been floating around for years. But besides a few small implementations, like the iPhoto uploader or the minimal iTunes sharing features, not much has happened.

But now Apple is catching up to other device creators that have integrated Facebook, like Palm and HTC — at least for the iPhone OS. Apple is going to allow people to sync Facebook friends’ contact information with their iPhone contacts, and include some form of Facebook access for developers within the iPhone SDK, according to Business Insider.

Other reports of deeper Facebook integration with Apple software have been coming out recently. One is that iTunes might let users more easily share their recent purchases with Facebook friends (this functionality currently exists, but in limited form).

Signs of contact syncing have already appeared. The upcoming 4.0 version of the OS includes an option to “Link New Contacts…” and software files point to Facebook syncing not just for contacts but for Facebook events.

Syncing for Apple’s iPhone OS apps isn’t a surprising move. More interesting is the possibility that Apple will encourage app developers to integrate Facebook for social features themselves. While gaming is big on both platforms, sharing games with friends has been much harder on the device; social gaming as we know it is just starting to emerge. Apple is planning to augment the OS with a Game Center that includes ways to share games with friends — perhaps Facebook will be integrated here, so games can be shared more easily with Facebook friends?

We’ve previously examined the potentially symbiotic relationship between the two companies: Apple makes devices, operating systems and a few complementary pieces of software; Facebook provides a “social operating system” that enhances other types of software by helping people to share relevant information with each other. Sure, Apple has an established payment system (iTunes) while Facebook is arguably working on one (its Credits virtual currency). And sure, Facebook has valuable new advertising products while Apple is starting to work on one.

But right now the companies’ core businesses do not overlap. They can help each other, potentially at the expense of a mutual rival (Google).

Perhaps most importantly, users have shown both companies that they want tighter integrations. The Facebook app for the iPhone has consistently been one of the most popular on either company’s platform, with 34.2 million monthly active users and 17.8 million daily active users as of today (see our graph from AppData, below).

Perhaps we’ll see the expected and hoped-for official Facebook iPad app emerge as part of the new OS launch, as well? Look for more at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference on June 7.

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