Apple's Music Social Network: Is "Ping" a Productivity Killer?

Ping can be accessed over iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches that go largely unmonitored by enterprise IT.

Apple's refresh of its entire consumer iPod line (Shuffle, Nano and Touch), as well as its new social network for music, called Ping, announced Wednesday is geared to the upcoming holiday shopping season. But companies and enterprise IT groups will also be impacted by the Apple onslaught of new devices and services.

If some CIOs thought employees were spending too much time on Facebook, consider how Ping threatens to cut into worker productivity. Ping has the potential to be a big hit among the Apple faithful who bring their iPhones to work every day and the 160 million current iTunes users.

A Nucleus Research survey last summer found that companies allowing users to access Facebook in the workplace lose an average of 1.5 percent in total employee productivity. Ping's interface also looks a lot like Facebook's.

Ping, built into the new iTunes 10, will be accessible over the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad—Apple devices largely unmonitored by enterprise IT that have nonetheless made inroads into the enterprise. According to Forrester, 29 percent of North American and European enterprises support the iPhone (and, by extension, the iPad), and adoption will only continue to grow.

Consumerization of IT, one example of which is people using a single piece of technology like the iPhone for both work and personal purposes, has been one of the hottest tech trends in recent years. Yet one of the oft-overlooked byproduct of this trend is that people can conduct personal activities more easily than ever, such as banking, shopping, playing games and, yes, social networking, on work time.

For employees who are also Apple music enthusiasts, checking into Ping might be irresistible. "Any distraction is a problem, particularly if the firm is paying for the service," says analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group. "Ping may be more secure, but it likely isn't authorized and still would fall under policies covering personal time. So, yes, it is a concern [CIOs] need to address through policy."

Another school of thought, however, contends that both the iPhone and social networking ultimately improve worker productivity. The iPhone has evolved recently to become a better enterprise tool. Most recently, Apple announced Wednesday that iOS 4.2 coming in November will support wireless printing.

Social networking advocates also claim that social networks let employees take short breaks that lead to the sharpening of concentration. Last year, the University of Melborne found that people who took small breaks between tasks were 9 percent more productive.

Nevertheless, CIOs should keep tabs on what Apple is doing on the consumer front and consider how the new offerings will impact the workplace.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com.

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