What is the Relationship Status Between Facebook and Apple?

As Facebook grows, and touches more technology with services like Facebook Connect, and as Apple moves deeper into media with the success of iTunes and the iPhone, the two companies are increasingly finding themselves in contact.

Most recently, with Apple’s purchase of music service Lala, it is now one of the few direct partners selling virtual goods inside of Facebook’s gift shop. Here’s a closer look at that deal, and a lot more.

“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not comment on our purpose or plans,” is the only comment the company gave about its purchase of the online music company last week. Facebook had previously launched a Lala service that let people buy songs for each other within its gift shop: for one Facebook Credit, you can buy someone to unlimited online plays of a song and for 9 Credits you could let them download the MP3 and get the song forever. Assuming the two companies keep the deal going forward, Facebook is now a full-blown distributor for iTunes and Apple is now a partner in Facebook’s still-young Credits virtual currency.

Interestingly, we heard rumors about the purchase a couple weeks ago — but we heard that Google and Facebook were looking, not Apple. However, we never confirmed that Facebook was interested, and we didn’t run the story. While Facebook has long been rumored to have been working on some sort of deal with Lala, as well as other online music companies, it has for the past year shied away from offering a music service itself.

Meanwhile, an anonymous source told Reuters that “Apple recognizes that the model is going to evolve into a streaming one and this could probably propel iTunes to the next level.” It’s interesting to think what a more full-blown deal between Apple and Facebook might look like. Apple, after all, has more leverage than any other technology when it comes to cutting deals with record labels over things like song licenses. It could potentially pull off better terms than what, unfortunately, startups like imeem were able to — then use Facebook as one of the venues for offering a streaming music service.

That last line was pure speculation, but we should mention that recent reports suggest that iTunes is moving more seriously into streaming via the Lala deal.

Here are some other ways that the two companies are currently connected.

Apple’s Facebook Pages, and its iTunes Facebook app

The company has a strong presence already on Facebook. Its Apple Students page has 1.41 million fans and its iTunes page has 2.34 million fans. Both pages are regularly updated with links to the latest relevant Apple news. And, this week, in conjunction with gift card company Blackhawk and digital card application developer GroupCard, the Page began letting people buy virtual iTunes gift cards for friends.

Apple separately has another promotion going on the iTunes page, where you get 20 free songs if you become a fan of the page (the songs are actually samples available through the Starbucks “Pick of the Week” iTunes promotion, not 20 songs of your choice). And, if you want your free songs, you have to not only become a fan of the page but install an app called “Free on iTunes” which is notably made by Apple itself. Aside: So yes, Apple has developed a couple Facebook apps. In order to get your songs, though, you’ll need to click through the app to iTunes; also, like any good Facebook app, it asks you to publish this action to your wall and your news feed. “Free on iTunes” currently has 109,000 monthly active users.