Apple vs. Google: Mobile business approach
Remember yesteryear when you didn’t need to bother with trying to find a mobile that does everything for you, when phones were just phones and not labelled with human features like smart?
Then Apple came to the scene and destroyed our tranquil simple lives with a new phenomenon, with a device, with….. an (iPhone) to raise the benchmark and herald the start of mass-market smartphone era.
It took me a few years before I bothered to jump on that bandwagon, I did have a Blackberry, however, even though they were pioneers of the smartphone market, their phones had something missing; their screens were small, they were smart in that they can do email and instant messaging alongside the usual phone duties, but that is where the connected world stopped, their browsing experience was akin to putting salt on your wounds and getting things installed on it was not easy and you could not tell what is available either. For me and evidently many others outside the business community, that kind of appeal was limited and as such it was not a game changer.
When the iPhone was introduced, together with Apple’s brilliant marketing strategy, they managed to transform the market, giving the illusion that they have just invent the real phone, what we used until that point was a pitiful second class citizen. Of course, what they really were talking about is the simplicity of use, the seamless functionality, the craftsmanship and beauty of the hardware and what capabilities they provide us with work like God intended them to (God here being Steve Jobs of course).
All of a sudden, phone companies found themselves with products that are now perceived to be slow, tedious, silly and anything but SMART phones.
So, where is Google in all this you ask? Well, it took Google a full year after the release of the first iPhone before the first phone with Android to be commercially available. HTC Dream build on their own Android OS, which is based on the code they acquired when they bought Android Inc. in 2005. It took Google another two years before they released, in cooperation with HTC their flagship phone Nexus One, their first real viable competitor to the iPhone. Currently Android OS is at version 2.3.x and iOS, the OS for Apple’s iPhone line, is on version 4.3.x with version 5 just been announced by Apple’s Steve Jobs at his WWDC Keynote speech.
So now we have had the two big players in the smartphone market for several years and we can already see what type of people use each and the differences between both.
When the first iPhone 3G came out, it had some missing features taken for granted by phone users until then, such as MMS or cut and paste among other things, however, what it was able to do it did in astonishing grace and elegance and Apple, with time, kept updating the software and rolling it out to all their customers until it managed to fix most of these issues. Apple also did another first, which was they were able to have full control over the software, not allowing mobile operators to have their own modified flavours, as such all software updates and support were fully controlled by Apple. The third thing they did right was that they only released phones to a country when they were ready, this meant when a phone was released in say Australia, users were able to buy music via iTunes and Application via the App Store and clients were able to buy iTunes credit from the shops if they didn’t want to use credit cards, etc etc.
Come in Google with Android, the company did what most other companies usually do, they gave software to handset manufacturers and let them work with it, modify and customise it, manufacturers in turn, let mobile networks add their modifications (most call them bloat wear) on top of that and you can see how things got complicated, confused, fragmented and frustrating very fast. Now if someone buys an Android phone they are at the mercy of the phone manufacturer and the mobile network, which in turn have, in most cases, managed to spectacularly disappoint clients.
When Google releases a new version of their Android software, forums start buzzing with questions if this manufacturer or that will implement the update and then if the said manufacturer actually does this most users start filling the forums with questions about network operators and if they will bother to release the updated version on the said phone with their added rubbish of course. All this takes months if not years if ever.
Google also allows phones to be released in countries without having things ready; in fact, phones are even released in countries without having the language of that said country available on the phone or even their Android Market available for that region. This is due to phone manufacturers having full control on what to do with the phones they make, however, as far as the user is concerned, the phone has Android on it and Google plastered all over it, as such, if the experience you get from the phone is unsatisfactory, it is ultimately Google’s fault since it is their software at the end of the day.
Google has their own agenda when it comes to software features and updates, I don’t really claim to understand why they choose what they choose, but it seems from observation that the USA market is their primary market for all their products and the rest of the world is far second, this is usually acceptable when you are dealing with small companies, however, Google is not one of those and their market is worldwide, as such the type of localisation they provide in Android is abysmal to say the least, in fact as I write this they don’t even have right to left language support build-in, which just shows their lack of understanding or misplaced priorities; they want their Android OS to have all sorts of features, however most of which are not fully mature nor ready, instead of what Apple go for, which is a steady stream of features, all of which are mature and ready at the point of release.
The funny thing is that Andorid is based on open source software and as such many of these missing features that they don’t have are actually being implemented by third party developers who want these things on their phones and those same developers send a lot of this code back to Google. However, even with this help a lot of these features do not get incorporated in Android OS and Google don’t write an alternative themselves either, leaving a lot of customers perplexed about who is in control of feature selection in Google and how do they come about choosing what to implement!
Apple have their own methods conducting business, they design, plan, execute, test then at the end release their products to the public and even then, they usually have a tight control of delivering software updates to any of these products, being hardware or software. Google on the other hand have a different approach, they usually release their products to the public when they are in the testing phase, just look at Google+ or Gmail. This was not a major problem for them because until Android, most of their products were web-based and they can simply update them with fixes as they are made available. They then came up with Chrome, which is installed on clients’ computers, however, they coupled it with forced updates and therefore it was more or less in the same boat as their web offerings.
Android is a different kettle of fish; there are different handset manufactures, an ecosystem represented in the Android Market and the networks that those phones are going to be used on. Google did not seem to realise, or just ignored, the complexity of this and simply tried to do business as usual. So the first versions of Android were not that impressive at all and felt rushed and in Beta, their market place still, until now, feel as if it is just not complete with many of their processes developed in reaction to problems and not by design.
I wonder if Google ever heard of project managers, ones that oversee the whole concept. Android just feels like a few different things that happen to be stuck together with tape! It is getting better and more integrated and polished with each newer version, however, Google need to realise that their release in Beta phase philosophy does not work with everything.
I use Android in my phone at the moment, I like it for its open source roots, the ability to choose an alternative to install applications if I don’t want to use the market, the flexibility that Apple is not willing to provide. However, when you look at what the competition offers as an overall experience, you can’t help it but wonder if the grass is actually greener on the other side.
I can’t write something like this without mentioning the rest of the market players, there is Microsoft with Windows Phone 7, who just managed to release their first version and only time will tell if they succeed, though they seem to have learned from both Apple and Google and tried to avoid many of their mistakes. There is Also HP with WebOS, I don’t know anyone who uses any of their phones here in Australia and so I won’t comment much about them, though their PlayBook looks very promising. There is also Samsung with Bada, it looks very interesting, thought it is hard to take it very seriously, when Samsung’s best phones are not using their own OS, instead are using Android.
Google needs to wake up and lift their game, improve their management and control of what they create, have better integration and more polished products at time of release and stop their juvenile approach to product delivery. There might have been a time for their current type of approach when they first came to the scene, however, when your market capital hovers around the $160+ billion it is time to grow up.