I like Mossberg’s take on how Google’s new focus on hardware will shake up the entire industry, not just Apple. Though there is are some points which should cause the team in Cupertino to sit up:
The world’s biggest tech company finally has a fitting rival. For decades, it has battled mainly software platform makers (Microsoft and Google) which had to depend on unrelated hardware partners to showcase their technology. And with hardware makers (Dell, Samsung) which had limited ability to integrate and make the most of others’ software. In the last 15 years or so, it’s done brilliantly in that matchup. Now, it will face a smart, rich rival that aims to do it all.
Apple squandered its early lead in integrated AI, with Siri, which still is clumsy so often that many just ignore it. It has similarly lost its early lead in music, waiting too long to embrace streaming and depending on hardware integration to make Apple Music an easier path for iPhone loyalists than Spotify. Another early advantage, its AirPlay system, which beams video and music to TVs and speakers, seems to have been forgotten in recent years, while Google’s Cast system is integrated in speakers and TVs from a variety of other manufacturers and a centerpiece of the new Google Home connected speaker.
I’m personally pretty excited about the Google Pixel and all future iterations. Google’s putting all their bets on hardware for their future and (putting aside privacy concerns) I think they’ve taken a solid first step.
Most people think I have an irrational love for Apple products, but that really isn’t the case. I just love using products that work. For me Apple’s products have embodied that philosophy. But Apple’s strengths have so far been in hardware design, or things in the physical realm. Their software and online services have been good but are increasingly lagging behind the competition.
Put it this way: for every leap and bound that we see from Apple’s hardware offerings, we get smaller less bold steps from their software iterations. Are they progressing? Yes. But are they getting better faster? Not really. To me, Google is now catching up to Apple on design faster than Apple is catching up with Google on services. And that’s a little frustrating.
It’s telling though, that when Apple removes a hardware feature (3.5mm audio jack), it’s marketed as ‘courage’ and everyone wants to talk about it. When Google changes their design you don’t quite hear as much chatter. I guess we being humans, there’s a certain connection with our ‘hold them in your hand’ physical products which doesn’t quite translate as well to software. But still, there’s an argument to be made about the importance of the user experience and I can say that Google’s apps have been improving tremendously over the years.
Android has also long suffered for being so fragmented as it’s spread across so many manufacturers. When I had an Android phone (an LG) I hated the experience of using the native apps, which were developed by the manufacturer to replace the ones by Google. Despite Samsung creating beautiful hardware their shell over Android is, to me, a terrible user experience. None of it appears to have been studied holistically.
Altogether Apple products still form a more compelling overall product (hardware and software) than Google’s. And for the moment this lead in unified design means that I’m willing to put up with the limitations of using Apple’s online services as well. However if the Pixel creates the same unified experience for Android, but within a solidly designed hardware wrapper, this could give Google a strategic advantage over Apple in the long run.
And ultimately, may the best product win.