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Stephen Foley: Apple and Facebook's love-in will end in tears amid fight for big prize


US Outlook The correct unit of measurement when it comes to coverage of Apple product launches is not column inches, but column miles, and there have been more written than usual this week on the escalating rivalry between the iPhone maker and Google. Sure, the newly unveiled iOS 6 operating system is an aggressive attempt to sideline Google's services on the iPhone and iPad. But the showdown really foreshadowed by iOS 6 is the one between Apple and Facebook.

That might sound counter-intuitive, given that iOS 6 is the first Apple operating system to integrate Facebook, allowing users to share photos or their latest Angry Birds scores direct to their Facebook friends, with a single touch.

The Apple-Facebook partnership is not like the Apple-Google love-in of old, when Google's Eric Schmidt sat on Apple's board and Google Maps and YouTube were designed as integral parts of the iPhone experience. That love-in is rapidly unravelling, with iOS 6 ousting Google Maps as the default location app and improvements to Siri, the iPhone's voice-activated search engine.

All the signs are that the Facebook partnership is a hard-nosed business deal reached at the end of some pretty feisty negotiations. Facebook went as far as launching its own camera app for Apple devices, and hinting that it has restarted work on a Facebook Phone to rival the iPhone, as if to telegraph that it has a powerful go-it-alone strategy.

The business impulse that drove Apple and Google apart will do the same for Apple and Facebook. All these companies are fighting for essentially the same prize. They all want to be the indispensable middleman for our mobile experience. They want to be the place collecting and housing the data on our likes and our locations, on our searches and our social network. They want to be the platform on which software developers create their games and other apps. They want to be the broker for advertisers that want to reach us.

Apple, of course, is more interested in protecting the user experience, to sell more of its high-priced devices; Google is bent on monetising our data through ads; Facebook might end up making more money from mobile commerce across its platform than it does from mobile ads, but we'll see about that. What is for sure is that it needs to bring back activity on to the Facebook platform that now happens in third-party apps on Apple's and other mobile devices.

Apple is putting more and more work into iCloud, its digital locker, which mainly contains users' iTunes music. Facebook is where most people keep their photos. The social network and iCloud are conceptually not that far apart.

Apple's iOS 6, meanwhile, hints at the start, just the start, of something the company has failed to achieve, namely its own social network. Ping, its last attempt, was a dismal failure, but iOS 6 builds in a few intriguing features. It allows new and easier photo sharing via Apple iCloud and there are services for keeping track of the location of family and friends.

Don't be fooled by the partnership deal between Apple and Facebook. It is a temporary marriage of convenience. It can't last.