The current state of mobile; the war and future of Apple, Google

Google is exciting now. iOS is losing ground to Android while the latter has seen many innovations and progress over the past few years enabling it to directly compete with the former. In the meantime, Apple hasn’t shown us any substantial upgrades on its software and hardware products while Google is at the forefront of. The race is tight.

It’s time to finally acknowledge this publicly. “This” — an unspoken concern rooted approximately since October 2012 in almost every conversation about the state of mobile OSes I’ve had the pleasure to have with friends. “This” — that Apple has lost “something” and just can’t perform anymore.

In other words: “Apple’s biggest problem: Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services.”

Truth be told, Apple performs. In fact, it performs better than any other enterprise in the recorded history of the Free Market system—ever. It seems this isn’t enough though, as it is widely considered that Apple reached its peak of huge growth, profits and products which start new industries and disrupt already existing ones. Products which are considered not only innovative but exceptional.

Android has seen many substantial upgrades the past few years while iOS hasremained stagnant apart for the incremental updates over time. By no means, though, is Android mature enough to be considered a true alternative to iOS; a product which can compete with iOS outside the realm of market share and other trivial statistics. iOS is (still) better. And probably will be. Even by a small margin, unless either a) you consider features such as sharing a photo to multiple apps from a single menu really important or b) Apple gets (for an unknown reason) to drop its immense focus on iOS while unicorns are spotted in the Cupertino campus. It’s safe to make an educated guess: b) will not happen.

While Android will face challenges, it has two distinct advantages courtesy of Google: data and Google Now (essentially, data in a more beautiful and useful way.) It’s amazing what you can do with Google Now. It is clear that Google Now outperforms Siri easily. Adding Fandango integration (Apple launched iOS 6.1 as I was writing this) looks great and thank you but it’s not something truly innovative. It’s not something I genuinely care about. It’s not a game changer.

Generally, data is Google’s biggest and most dangerous weapon against Apple. In fact, Apple doesn’t even have substantial data—it merely owns the “pipes” data gets transmitted. iTunes & credit cards are valuable but a credit card represents a small fraction of the “set of all my data,” eg. location (mobile phone), social graph (Gmail/Google+), knowledge graph (Search), routes & traffic (extension of location), and the list goes on.

Apple could capitalize its vast credit cards/payments data by buying Square (such rumours surface from time to time) and offer the best experience for offline shopping from both the consumer and retailers’ point of view. One could consider such a move a Google Now competitor in terms of data competenency among the two companies.

While Google knows you, Apple knows your wallet.

Speaking of possibilites, Google Glass is the next big step for Google. I cannot predict if it can generate revenues for Google but from a product and tech perspective it is one of the most truly exciting things out there. And it can easily integrate with Google’s data pool, hence capitalize both and push “personalization” to a whole new level. It can be what Siri was supposed to be and something more than that. For every possible situation, you will not have to find your phone, reach for it, open and speak at it—you will wear Google Glass. Google Glass will be everywhere with you.

But most importantly, Google Glass will be a landmark event in Google’s history. It will depict the transition between a web/software company, from producing stuff that “doesn’t exist,” to stuff that does actually exist, and not only exists, but helps our lives, too; a company that can have a long and prosperous future. This event enables Google to capitalize a lot more on its data: use it as a generator of products both of software and hardware nature. And hardware might be a hard problem to tackle, but even at the early stages of Google Glass, we see that Google can indeed tackle it. To add to the aforementioned transition point, there is also the Google Driverless car coming. But since Google’s car is something completely different allow me not to elaborate on it.

What lies ahead

The following are by no means predictions, nor should they be taken as such.

For starters, it is exciting to see Jony Ive having more control on Apple’s design. Both on software (iOS 7, possibly?) and hardware (new desktops/laptops/Apple TV?). He’s a symbol of hope that Apple can produce something radically better than any other company out there, something that will not only ‘wow’ customers but change the status quo.

Regarding mobile, iOS can definitely see more upgrades. I don’t think a complete UI revamp can pull it off, although it has remained the same since the iPhone’s launch. We all know Ive doesn’t like the recent skeuomorphism but I don’t think a) he will drastically change it and, b) even if he does, this alone doesn’t implies a great new upgrade. On a related note, the recent iTunes redesign was sucessful. This shows Apple is still on top of its game.

One of the most famous stories by Steve Jobs was how he reduced the product line Apple offered and grouped them in discrete categories. That’s not the case any more since there are too many iPads, MacBook Pro’s and Apple stuff in general out there. But such a wide product range is well-received by the Street mainly because Apple has more margins to receive a profit from, even when some devices (eg. iPad Mini) offer smaller ones.

Apple has to figure out a better iCloud infrastructure and also reduce its downtime. Users don’t trust it yet for data storage unless it’s about the Photo Stream (which also has some usability problems,) contacts sync and device backups. Much alike Square, Dropbox could also be (actually, already was) in Apple’s shopping list but such a scenario—a Dropbox exit to Apple—is a scenario I wouldn’t like to see played out.

Most importantly, though, Apple has to offer something that can compete with Google Now. It (Google Now) might not yet be big, but as said, it is one of Google’s biggest assets, as is the data behind it. Clearly, Siri hasn’t lived up to the expectations yet. Speaking of shopping lists: Apple could acquire PlaceMe, a startup about background location and personal data associated with it, like traffic routes, where you live, where you work, what kinds of things you are likely to buy inside stores, etc. It has been dubbed by Scoble as one of the startups that cross the “freaky line.” An exit of PlaceMe to Apple would make sense.

On the other hand, Google gets to be exciting again. Mainly because its vast pool of data about every single one of us allows it to easily enter the “contextual” age. It still needs to be proven though with great products. But the company from Mountain View is definitely at the right direction with Now, Glass and Driverless car.

Specifically for Android, while it has the best integration with Google’s suits of tools (Cpt. Obvious reference here) and data associated with it, I do think it still needs work on its UI and UX front. It would be nice to see bit more tighter enforced Play store rules, mainly to protect users from malicious software (which appears often in the news) while maintaining the essence of an open platform.

Android lacks quality (and perhaps will continue doing so) compared to iOS. That’s what Google has to improve and fight for.

Google is exciting now. It is exciting because of the promise it carries, a promise of the open web and data that can help our daily lives in a much broader scope. And, personally, that gets me excited as well. Although I haven’t lost hope for Apple. And — I guess, I won’t. Its deep in Apple’s DNA to offer distinctly better products than the competition.

(Thanks to @zacoppotamus, @kpvl and @dkalo for proofreading this post.)

posted: January 29, 2013
under: Editorials

2 Responses

  1. billoukos says:

    Really insightful piece on where mobile is going.

    My main concern is that you focus your comments on the western world. It has been evident, the last 2 years, that all tech companies will shift towards emerging markets. It was a far-fetched scenario some years ago but now is the reality. The power of BRICs, Indonesia and sub-saharan Africa is huge and there are many reasons explaining why mobile will be much more crucial in these markets compared to the Western ones.

    2 reasons from the top of my mind:

    1) the lack of banking infrastructure in these markets drives people doing all their purchases via their MNOs. So instead of having an iTunes subscription linked to their debit cards, they prefer buying content directly through their operators’ platform like MTN, Etisalat, Claro etc

    2) consumers in these markets never made the leap from desktop to laptops and then to smartphones like we did. They learnt to interact only via mobile phones so this is the device they will trust.

    Having that in mind and also adding in the equation things like the rise of emerging markets’ middle class, the fact that mobile can truly help in social aspects of life like voting, community management, public health, charity we can lead to the conclusion that Apple, Google etc will focus their efforts in these markets.

    Meaning that their software products and product design are not their competitive advantages anymore. Things like pricing, connectivity, dual SIM card etc will be vital for them. A good example is that Apple has already designed a cheaper version of iPhone targeting these markets. Handset manufacturers like Huawei, ZTE and Nokia are already dominant there and believe me, they dont care about UI and design a lot.

  2. alexandros says:

    Insightful analysis and considerations on the mobile market. I really like the word-choice: “Google is ‘exciting’ now.”

    I think that the word captures the feeling, both of the company itself (i.e. Google) and for the lot of the critics and for anyone observant of the market and the relations within it.

    Can’t wait for a follow-up post in the next few months!