Tilde and Ember.js co-founder Tom Dale argues that Apple’s biggest problem is that “Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services.” The irony is that it’s a problem entirely of Apple’s own making. By exercising rigid, end-to-end control of the iPhone and iPad experience, Apple essentially forced Google into building its own operating system.
It didn’t have to be this way. Google has always succeeded because of others’ platform successes, not in spite of it. On the desktop, Google builds services that run on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, in a variety of browsers. When Google felt the browser market needed to improve performance, it developed Chrome, but has never built exclusively for Chrome. In fact, despite taking 18% of the desktop browser market, Google re-upped its commitment to rival browser Firefox.
Can you imagine Apple doing that?
While Apple finally opened up to rival browsers on iOS devices, it persists in forcing Safari on users as the default browser. Apple has some fantastic applications like iMovie, but they’re almost always only available on Mac OS X or iOS. Occasionally, as with iTunes, Apple lets go of its tight, end-to-end control of its software or services, but these are the exceptions. With Google, that’s the rule, to such an extent that Google actually sometimes makes its services better on iOS than Android, as with Maps.
Some suggest, as does Chris Silva, a mobile analyst at Altimeter Group, that Google’s strategy of running on rival platforms is a Trojan Horse of sorts:
The best way to recruit users to [Android] devices is to get them using [Google’s] services. Find them where they are, get them using the services and ramp them up so when they have devices equivalent to the iPhone, they are already in the market.
Perhaps, but this overlooks the fact that Google’s strategy is to collect data and make money through web services, not hardware sales or OS licensing or other traditional means. Because of this, Google arguably would never have dabbled in hardware or its own mobile OS had it not been threatened with an iOS lock-out.
Or would it? Krishnan Subramanian, founder and principal analyst at Rishidot Research speculates that “Android is the reason why smartphone acceleration even happened.” In other words, had Google not gotten involved with Android, smartphone adoption would have been slow, gated by the broader public’s ability to afford Apple devices. This becomes even more problematic if Apple is not only blocking the market from growing, but also inhibiting Google’s ability to profit from it.
Apple Put Google In Danger
Google makes $0 directly from Android. In fact, over the years it has heavily subsidized Android adoption, as Benchmark Capital general partner Bill Gurley highlights. Google’s revenue is largely tied up in search. If you’re Google, watching Apple systematically attempt to remove or replace services like YouTube, Maps, etc. and improve its own sync and other services, you’ve got to be worried that Apple could be one deal away from removing or deprecating Google search in mobile Safari and replacing it with its own technology, or even (gasp!) Microsoft’s Bing, which was rumored to be in the works back in 2010.
By seeking to completely control the Apple customer experience, from services to hardware to OS to apps, with limited API access to tie third-party services into iOS, Apple forced Google’s hand, something LEF researcher Simon Wardley posited back in 2011. I continue to believe that the mobile industry would be much better if Apple focused on doing what it does well – OS and hardware – and Google and others focused on their respective strengths. But until someone stands down, Google will continue to reap the results of Apple’s control: (partner) hardware dominance, particularly Samsung; OS dominance; and services and apps dominance.
This isn’t what Apple wanted, but sometimes we don’t want the consequences of what we want. By seeking to holistically control the customer experience, Apple has simply ensured that the majority of the market will, in fact, get that experience … from Google. Because Google, despite being in the position to own the entire mobile experience, is also just as happy to run on platforms made by others. Consumers experience Google everywhere. With Apple, they can only experience it on Apple hardware.
Apple forced Google’s hand. I suspect it now wishes it could put the Google genie back in the bottle.