Sunday, June 17, 2012

Playing Well With Others

Let me first say I liked the WWDC Apple Keynote this year. Previous years I've found the Keynotes - from both Apple and Google -  alienating and divisive, and to me it's brought the entire ecosystem down a couple notches. Now this Keynote did throw a couple punches (Forstall calling out 7% Ice Cream Sandwich was a justifiable statistic, but Safari being the "best and most popular web browser on the planet" was manipulative and shameful marketing). However I thought Apple expressed three things in their Keynote that Google should be keeping in mind: that Apple dominates the mobile computing world right now, Apple works well with other companies, and Apple is truly concerned about the user's experience.

Apple Triumphant

Every year the WWDC Keynote has been a way for Apple to show its increasing dominance in the computing world. Media outlets over-saturate the Internet with all the Apple stories and rumors, whether the news is big or small, because they know that when Apple events occur, the tech world watches. This year Apple expressed its dominance by announcing a replacement for Google Maps throughout their products. It was enough for Google to schedule a press event a few days beforehand, to remind everyone that Google Maps still offers powerful features like walking directions, map layering, offline map storage and a robust and tested API in the wild for 7 years.

Apple's maps certainly won't have the robustness Google Maps has, but that isn't really the point of Apple's solution. Apple focused on providing the minimal features that make their Maps comparable to Google's, and that's about it: terrain, road navigation, place discoverability. From there though, they offloaded the content to other tools - for the time being Yelp. In a way, Apple's saying taking Google on is doable at a basic level, and that you can make a comparable product if you provide a good user experience (via Siri). It's a good message, that a lot of companies should listen to, or Google will make them irrelevant.

Apple Communicates

It's important to notice that the Keynote referenced Apple products that integrated with a lot of different software partners. Yelp, Facebook, Twitter. These software partners are all known and provide reliable services to users. Additionally they showed off Passbook, which is encouraging a way of using paperless tickets that has been painfully lacking through a lot of retail outlets. That these tools are developing shows a will and drive from Apple to provide a solution through its partners to have something easy to use that "just works."

Let's contrast this with Google. Google has been trying to get Google Wallet off the ground, but carriers have been working on their own digital wallet solution called Isis instead, while OEMs have been dragging their feet with adding NFC technology on a wide scale into their phones over this past year. Another example is Android 4, Ice Cream Sandwich, which was released 19 October 2011, and as of the Keynote only had 7% adoption.

Now Google understood they had a problem with OS updates last year, and at Google I/O 2011 formed the Android Alliance to produce timely updates to Android devices - as Scott Forstall's chart shows, it hasn't really been a success. The other thing Google did more recently was acquire Motorola Mobility. Everyone wrote off the purchase for Motorola's patent portfolio, but if Google has direct control over an OEM in the Android Alliance, maybe Motorola can encourage others to follow a better schedule. I don't know about you, but if Motorola had the "Google Promise" of having the latest OS version within a week of a release, I think I'd think twice about getting another Samsung (By the way, still waiting on that ICS update for my Epic 4G Touch, Samsung...)

Apple Cares

The final point is that Apple sincerely does want to provide the best products and experiences to their users. At the end of the day, Tim Cook addressed the audience toward the end, saying "The products we make, combined with the apps that you create, can fundamentally change the world." I like Cook's attitude, but also think his words may've been a little intentionally poignant. Google's employees have 20% time, have games in Google products, and create some really offbeat products to the average user. I get the impression that older companies think Google doesn't take being a tech company seriously enough.

I don't think this perspective is justified, personally. I do think Google has grown a lot in offering better experiences to users. For a while I did hear they were a little too metrics-driven, relying on A/B testing and data processing over UX, in the last few years I think they've moved beyond that. I do think Google still rubs a lot of companies the wrong way with their youth and cockiness at times. Additionally, I think it's also worth pointing out that Google's humanitarian efforts are commendable.


When the Keynote completed and everyone was chattering about the new Macbook Pro with the retina display, I was eyeing Passbook. As a user, Passbook offers a solution to paper coupons that hasn't been tackled very well on a massive scale. It shows a willingness of Apple to collaborate with different companies on creating a solution that their partners all buy into upon release. Since Apple has the benefit of being labeled a hardware company, maybe Google is seen too much as a competitor for other companies to work with them. Or maybe Google is overreaching by jumping into everything from deal sites (Goggle Offers), social media (Google+), to publishing (Currents and Catalogs), and doesn't feel like it needs to work with others. Either way, in the end I felt Apple's Keynote confronted Google with the fact that although Google's presence is huge and powerful, it can easily be uprooted with the right tools, the right partners, and the right user base.

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