Someone once told me imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. I’m sure you’ve heard similar advice. I don’t think Eric Schmidt and the leadership at Google have been offered that old axiom though. If you were keeping an eye on the announcements coming out of the Google I/O conference this week you noticed they all had a similar theme; all were a reaction or move against a similar Apple offering. It seems Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is intent on flattering Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) in as many ways as possible in the next year.
MacRumors provides a good rundown of how Google’s announcements line up with current Apple offerings. If you don’t believe Google sees Apple as its direct competition, reading the article will convince you otherwise. Of particular note to iPhone owners are that three of the four major Google announcements are moves against the current iPhone OS environment. Interestingly enough, Google didn’t frame these announcements in terms of their individual strengths and uniqueness but instead in terms of their differentiation from the iPhone OS. Granted, they didn’t directly juxtapose the two architectures but the implication was there. I’ve said in a few different articles that it feels like a mistake for a company to form their product from a list of things the competition doesn’t have. Yet, that seems to be what Google has done.
The most prominent of those announcements was Android 2.2, the so-called Froyo build. Froyo is a further evolution of Android which, in a lot of ways, is a very innovative platform. Unfortunately it also suffers from some very apparent flaws; some of which aren’t even in the operating system itself. The two major announcements around Froyo are the ability for a phone to act as a wireless access point and Flash 10.1 support. On the surface these seem like important divergences from the iPhone OS but if you look under the surface you see they are reactionary moves. Google’s sudden belief it needs to fully support Flash? Well if you don’t get the back story on that you have some catching up on the news to do. The wireless access point mode is an interesting idea but really this is Google taking a feature from the “Things iPhone OS Doesn’t Have” list. Tethering is something iPhone OS has supported since version 3 but something AT&T has famously blocked due to alleged concerns about the load on their data network. The mobile AP feature is an obvious dig at the lack of tethering support. It’s an interesting feature but it distracts from the underlying problems still inherent in the Android system.
Unlike iPhone OS, Android is a horribly fractured operating system. There are currently at least four major versions of the product with a fifth on the way when Froyo comes out. People on the lower versions of the OS have little or no hope of a direct OTA update of their product which is dependent on both the abilities of their hardware and the willingness of the mobile carrier to allow it to happen. Google’s attempt to strong arm its Android partners into unification with the Nexus One and Android 2.1 failed; something signaled by Google’s withdrawal from direct to market selling of the Nexus One. In short, Android suffers not only from strong competition externally but internal divisions as well. Google can use Android to imitate iPhone OS and add features Apple isn’t ready, or prepared, to include all they want; as long as their own house is in disarray they will never make a concerted push against Apple.
I read a good book last week I think sums up Apple’s view on all of this attempted one-upmanship coming out of Mountain View. The book was REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of 37Signals. It’s an excellent business philosophy book and I would encourage you to read it as well. The part of the book germane to this discussion is where they discuss what to do about the competition. To briefly paraphrase their thoughts (and with my apologies for doing so to Jason and David), they say who cares what the competition is doing. You need to focus on making your product the best it can be in accordance with your vision for it. People should love your product for what it offers them. If they don’t love your product then you shouldn’t go into endlessly recursion chasing the competition’s feature set, that’s a fool’s game. Apple has never made an attempt to chase the Android feature set, or the feature set of any other product. Apple has a solid vision for their product and the will to follow it through. Some people love Apple for this and some hate it. At the end of the day though Steve Jobs gets to go home knowing he’s making what he wants, not something dictated by a distant second place rival jumping up and down to be noticed in a crowd.
What do you think? Will Google’s run at Apple and the iPhone OS increase their market share or just give the reputation of a “me-too” competitor? Will Apple’s single-mindedness cost them customer base in the end? Let us know in the comments section.