Apple’s Ping: Anatomy of a Failure

We’ve become used to Apple’s successes in recent years, so a failure of the level of Ping comes as a bit of a surprise. Of course, those of us who write about Macs and Apple products remember many failures in the company’s past: from the Newton (ahead of its times) to the Cube, by way of various iterations of online services, such as iTools, .Mac, and MobileMe.

Tim Cook recently made it clear that Ping was not successful, and reports circulating today suggest that Ping will not be visible in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, which will be released in July. I think it’s safe to assume that Ping is dead, or will be in a month or two; either with the launch of Mountain Lion, or with iOS 6, to be released in the fall. (It’s worth noting that Ping, as part of iTunes, does not require an update to be killed. The iTunes Store is just HTML pages, like web pages, and Apple can pull the plug at any time.)

Ping is in interesting failure, however, because it showed a disregard for all that was logical. From the very beginning, I was hesitant about Ping. One issue I highlighted was the fact that users could only post about music sold by the iTunes Store. While this is the majority of music out there, it is still a limit that meant that this was a marketing tool, not a real social network tool. The lack of a Facebook link, which reportedly failed at the last minute, was another issue.

My Macworld colleague Chris Breen recently wrote about why he thought Ping failed, but I think both he, in that article, and I, in my article just after launch, missed the real reason. Ping was designed to be nothing more than a marketing tool, and it was wrapped within a proprietary application: iTunes on the Mac and iOS. Because of this, when users wanted to interact with others on Ping, they had to use these applications. They couldn’t access them via a web browser, which, in turn, meant they had to “visit a store” to do anything.

Facebook works well because it is a website (though you can access it on iOS via an app). Twitter, because of its limits, works through third-party apps, but is also accessible on the web (and was originally designed as a web-based tool). But Ping was designed to make sure that anything you said was presented within the frame of the iTunes Store. If Ping had been accessible via a web page, and people could access it from a bookmark, perhaps it would have been more popular. By wanting to sell too much and too hard, Apple killed what might have been a good idea.