The Problem With Social Networks for the iPhone

There have been a ton of new releases for the iPhone recently, and a lot of talk about the latest and greatest social networks to come down the pike. We’ve seen Stamped, Path, With, Instagram and more come down the pike, and all of them are either iPhone only, or start out that way.

Now obviously I think that the iPhone is a great platform to put your developer money, but starting a social network is a big task. And frankly, there are a lot of faults in the plan, particularly when the only platform is the iPhone. Let’s talk about it after the break.

Starting With The Obvious

Before continuing on, take a moment and think about all of the friends you have, then think about what kind of phone they have in their pocket. Chances are pretty good that you know who your iPhone friends are, because you’ve probably waited in line with them for the latest Apple product or played a game with them online. But what about the rest of them? If you can’t even recall what type of phone it is, chances are pretty good it’s either a traditional “non-smart” phone, or an Android — fact is, you can find Android on every carrier on multiple devices, and they can be pretty cheap.

So when it comes time to sign up for that latest social network, you’ve basically got to narrow down your group of friends to those who have an iPhone. In my case, that means a good 50-70 percent of my friends who I would normally have in there, just aren’t available. That’s weird. And even weirder, there are the people I know in my life who aren’t really my friends but have iPhones and know me through some other social network. Do I really want those people following me on whatever network it happens to be, particularly if it involved location sharing?

Data Entry

Today, the two big social networks are Twitter and Facebook, and that’s pretty much it. There are definitely some up and comers in there, but no one has really come close to the juggernauts of Silicon Valley. If I want to update my status on either of the two, I have lots of options. I can use an app on my Mac, use the web or my iPhone, and both of them have options for other mobile operating systems, including the iPad, Android and otherwise.

So how about the newbies? If it’s an iPhone-only application, well then the iPhone is my only option. I’m pretty handy at hammering out a text message on my iPhone, and the occasional long email here and there, but sometimes doing so on the iPhone gets tedious. I want another option; some way of doing it faster, without having to use only my thumbs.

Hardware Limitations

The iPhone 4S is a very fast phone, but last I checked, there was no Ethernet port to plug into. Wi-Fi and 3G will only get you so far, and sometimes it’s just not fast enough. How many times have you pulled up your Facebook account just to wait for that 3G connection to click? Or wait for an image to load up because you don’t have a great Wi-Fi signal? Take that same scenario and apply it to the newbies, and you’ve got a reason not to use the service. For example, I’ve been using Stamped off and on since I wrote a review on it a week or so ago, and sometimes when I go to refresh it, I get nothing. I sit and wait, watch the little circle indicating Wi-Fi activity move around, but it just takes too long to refresh, so I bail. If I can’t access it, what’s the point? Every single thing that either slows you down or stops you from using this new app is another mark against it. You might take those kind of delays from a service with a proven track record, but the standards are so high with a new one that the developer has to be flawless, otherwise it’s not worth the effort.

The Hassle

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about social networks, and how they had slowly taken over the home screen on my iPhone. We talked for a bit about how sometimes it’s annoying to get a request to join yet another network, when we’ve already connected with that particular person on many others. Not everyone is at into it was some of us are, and that can be a problem. But as a person who does like to join the latest and greatest thing, I want all of my friends to be there with me so we can share in the fun. That’s the whole point, right? That’s why we all flocked to MySpace when it took off, and why we then turned it into a ghost town when Facebook finally became mainstream. We go where our friends go, and sometimes being the first isn’t an advantage. And without a large network, no one wants to go there.

So What Do You Do?

Well that is the question, isn’t it? Facebook would still be limited to Harvard if they hadn’t expanded it, and Twitter wasn’t anything special until a few big names took up the cause. There really is no firm way to determine who will succeed and who will fail. Who knows what the next big thing will be, and if you’re an early adopter, you’re essentially gambling that your network of choice will succeed. That’s not always the case — just ask Color.

So what’s your decision? Well in my mind, I work it out like this: I adopt the new network and give it a try. If I like it, I stick with it and hope that an Android/Blackberry/Web version of it comes out within six months so the rest of my friends can hop onboard. If not, well then I may just bail. If so, then I ride the train on until it stops.

But if the platform stays iPhone only forever, there are very few social networks that will succeed. Instagram has bucked the trend so far, but there are many others left in the wake. It’s an uphill struggle, for sure.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.


  • JanHoos

    For me I check wether it adds something to my Facebook, Foursquare or Twitter experience. If it adds something new or different I try it out. If not than I’m not even going to bother.

    I’m even less inclined to try it out if its on one platform like iPhone online. Because like you say, not everyone has an iPhone so they miss out. Which makes it not suitable for a social network. For me a social network is there to keep up on everyone of my contacts :)

  • J.D.

    I could not agree with your more, sir. As an iPhone user, I really enjoy trying out new apps when they are first released (espeically social networking apps) and I’m always disappointed that I have no one to enjoy the experience with. I have a handful of friends that are iPhone users and only one of them is as into trying new apps as I am.

    To top it off, the person I enjoy experiencing new things with the most (my girlfriend) has an Android phone, so we’re limited to Facebook with our social networking interactions (she’s not a Twitter). I understand releasing an app on multiple platforms simultaneously requires time and resources, so they release the app on the iPhone and wait to see if it’s a hit; however, in doing so, the app may ulimtatly fail due to lack of adoption.

  • Minh

    I agree. These are more like iPhone-using-friends-network, rather than a social network as touted. Which is a shame as I’d love to use apps like Stamped and Path more. So far, I only downloaded them to admire the pretty UI, and that’s it really.

  • Oleg

    You should also consider privacy aspect. All those apps can download your contacts and other personal information from the phone, and you can’t really control this. The only way I’ve found to myself is to use only web versions on the phone.

  • Andy C

    Still way to early to call the game. Color was overhyped and the concept overblown. We’re still really early in the adoption cycle of everything and while it is gaining steam its still very immature.

    I also rarely see the speed problems associated with checking and maintaining a healthy social environment WiFi, 3G, etc.

    On app success, Instagram is currently about to hop platforms so its growth will continue and by showing just how many people exist in that app it shows a waterline for potential even if it is iPhone specific.

    I think if you have a great sticky concept it will naturally gain traction. Sure there are apps/concepts born to lose and some people invest way too much on a concept vs pilot/beta tests. It’s the nature of the beast. We trial, we try, we import, we see who else is there, we stick around, we fade away, new things come, more things fade. Welcome to the machine and all that. 😉 Enjoy the ride and have fun on those things that have enough hooks for you and yours to enjoy yourselves on.

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  • Aeronaves

    I have a handful of friends that are iPhone users and only one of them is as into trying new apps as I am.

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