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Summary:

Google’s power in the mobile computing world seems to grow with every new product announcement and Android device that comes to market. But for all its reach, the search giant is missing one piece of the puzzle that Apple does better than anyone else: product integration.

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Google’s power in the mobile computing world seems to grow with every new product announcement and Android device that comes to market. But for all its reach, the search giant is missing one piece of the puzzle that Apple does better than anyone else: product integration.

It starts with one device. Maybe it’s an iPod; maybe it’s a first Mac; but from that first product, you discover Apple’s unique take on technology. Apple treats each device it manufactures with care, sweating the little details like font choices and icon design, and thinking about how it all fits together. Each device Apple creates plays a part in the overall ecosystem, and the links between them are clear.

I recently stepped outside the cozy Apple ecosystem and purchased an Android phone, the HTC Desire. It was on sale at a steep discount, and I thought I would be able to integrate it into my work/life flow. I was wrong, and the phone is being returned.

The phone was powerful, and had some very interesting features, but it was so entirely different from the rest of my Mac setup that nothing felt right. I could go into detail about application crashes, frustrating hardware, the sordid Android Market (I wouldn’t let my kids browse through it), and other annoyances, but suffice to say that it simply didn’t measure up to the expectations I’ve developed from using Apple devices.

Apple is the only computer company that creates all of its own hardware and software; they control the entire package. Personal computers are a mishmash of parts and pieces from different sources. Hardware from one company, software from another. By contrast, many modern smartphone and computer makers get hardware from one place, and an operating system from another. BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion is a notable exception to this rule, but a recent interview with their co-CEO Mike Lazaridis seems to suggest the company’s leadership at least has little sense of what smartphone consumers really want.

HP, which recently purchased Palm, is another exception to the rule. The stage is set for the computing giant to build its own tightly integrated smartphone environment, if they have any interest in doing so. HP now sells the Palm Pre, but unfortunately, the Pre, once seen to be a strong iPhone competitor, seems to be lagging behind. Not a single one of these companies can design and test integration between phones, tablets, computers, and online services as well as Apple can, because none controls each of these aspects the way Apple does.

Does Apple’s degree of control occasionally border on the excessive? Yes. But consumers end up benefitting from that control more often than they are harmed. It’s only because Apple controls the entire product line that you can rent Inception in iTunes on your Mac, and know that it will play on your iPad, your iPhone, and your Apple TV. It works reliably, consistently and predictably.

When you live in the Apple ecosystem, you make a deal with Apple: I’ll pay you, and in exchange, you make sure everything plays nicely together. Google doesn’t seem to be interested in providing that kind of tightly integrated experience, at least not yet.  What Apple does best is remember that technology only exists to serve its users, and goes far beyond a list of features and hardware specs. And that’s why Apple will continue to drive the future of computing, regardless of whether Google and others end up winning the numbers game.

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  1. Wait… what? Google doesn’t want a unified experience? They are shipping 60,000 custom-hardware-designed notebooks with Chrome OS: http://gigaom.com/mobile/google-has-60000-chrome-notebooks-to-share/

    This is a company that 15 years ago didn’t even exist, yet have already started to overtake Apple at their own smartphone game, and they are doing it on a different playing field: the cloud.

    1. You haven’t seen Apple’s cloud yet and when you do…it will rain on everyone else’s sub-standard parades. Apple will not only rule the cloud but the heavens in their entirety.

      Apple creates and wins the revolution in one swell swoop. Everyone else plays catch-up, and badly at that.

      Sent from my Apple Ecosystem.

  2. Choices, choices. Some consumers want cheap, others wanted branded. I’m pretty certain that most consumers don’t know a walled garden platform from an open platform. They just want something that works for them. Most consumers do not jailbreak their smartphones. It should work for them right out of the box. Sure, iOS has restrictions but for most consumers it’s not a hassle. They don’t have a clue that Steve Jobs is pulling their strings or controlling their experience. Apple doesn’t need to have 90% smartphone market share. 30% smartphone market share will keep Apple in the close to 50% financial share territory. That’s more than good enough for Apple to prosper for years. Let the Android boys duke it out with one another. There’s only one iPhone on iOS and consumers will continue supporting Apple as long as the product is of high-quality even if it doesn’t have the most features or the lowest price. Google is doing well financially, but Apple is doing better, much better. Wait until the iPhone hits Verizon and iPhone sales go up close to 50%.

  3. es, Cyndy, and check out the reviews. Engadget’s was typical of the bunch: “Google has made it clear that it has plans to make a lot of improvements to the OS before it launches, and it certainly needs it. We encountered plenty of bugs and slowdowns, to be sure. On occasion when we went to sign out we ended up losing our session, as if it had “crashed” — though thankfully a “restore” dialogue came to our rescue each time. Some extensions that worked for us initially stopped working later on, and some sites would perform really well one moment and really sluggishly the next. Interestingly, Google touted the OS as immune to the sort of slowdowns you get over weeks and months with a desktop OS like Windows, but we noticed slowdowns over a matter of minutes and hours.” http://www.engadget.com/2010/12/09/google-cr-48-chrome-laptop-preview/

    1. It’s a beta. I have sluggishness with Snow Leopard every time Time Machine starts grinding away, to the point where I might as well be on a 486 with a 14.4 modem trying to connect to an AOL account.

      The point is that both companies have their faults. Apple is completely myopic when it comes to competition (see Steve’s “no one wants a 7-inch tablet” speech for his latest example) and they should wake up and actually pay attention to people other than fanboys worshipping at the altar of Jobs. There have been a lot of defecters with the surge of cool Android phones like the Evo, and they need to start listening. Not everyone is a diehard “I’ll only buy Apple” forever.

  4. Some people enjoy a nicely curated subdivision, others enjoy the grit of city streets. I bought a MacBook Pro, and will again, because it’s the finest laptop you can buy. My iPhone was more of an experiment, and something of a disappointment – what do you mean I can’t add this free MP3 at work without trashing the rest of my library? And on it went. All the smartphones I’ve had before or since, except WinMo, have been pleasant, not frustrating.

    And if you’re worried about the Market, I’ve got some news for you about the rest of the Internet.

  5. Well said – same thoughts.

  6. I think Apple’s true strength is human interface design. Beneath the surface, Apple uses the same hardware (and often suppliers) as its’ competitors. But none of them seem to understand the way humans interact with technology the way Apple does.

    My gateway into Apple came through a PC, via iTunes. The fact they could make digital music simple may seem trivial today. Until you realize the competition is still struggling to master it.

    I still have a PC. And it works seamlessly with my three iDevices. Which is why my next computer will be a MAC.

  7. A great expression of reality. Thank you for understanding and posting it for the confused to read and absorb.

  8. agree with the post. but of course the Apple ecosystem is so much bigger. it’s the integration of all the various Apple hardware, iOS, and OS X, linked mainly by iTunes and iLife (and iWork someday). it’s focused on your home LAN now, but Apple is expanding its web and cloud (MobileMe) components gradually. i expect OS X Lion to take this to the next level in 2011 – iOS apps running on your desktop/laptop.

    and don’t forget what everyone overlooks as a crucial part of this unique ecosystem – the Apple Retail Stores. real people that really help you at no charge! (the cost of course is part of the product prices.)

    Google has the best cloud ecosystem. but nothing else.

  9. This article is an interesting commentary. I am very fond of Google products but they always feel like they aren’t done yet. That they haven’t finished, they haven’t worked out all the problems, that there’s a lot left to be done. That’s my impression of what an Android phone would be like. Functional but unfinished, ambitious but missing critical details. From what I’ve read, I’m not wrong.

    I remember buying a very expensive Dell monitor with USB ports on the side. When you plugged a USB device into this particular monitor, the back of the device was what you saw. Any indicator lights were facing the wrong way. This was clearly an oversight, a case where they just weren’t thinking about the details. When I first saw that, I remember thinking, “Apple would never do that.”

    Apple products, for good or bad, are crafted with such detail and attention that they are what we hold other products up to for comparison. And that’s a good thing. I think that without Apple, Windows would probably still look (and act) like Windows 98. Apple creates the standards to which all others achieve. They always have, even when they had 3% of the market share. People should be grateful to Apple when they use their Android device or Windows computer. Because of Apple, those companies had to strive to make their products better. It wasn’t because of Microsoft, or Google, or HP, or IBM, or Dell or any other. It was always Apple that was the design leader on many consumer electronic fronts.

    1. I obviously meant, “Apple creates the standards to which all others strive.”

    2. Andrew MacDonald PD Saturday, December 11, 2010

      Very well said, and I completely agree!

  10. Fantastic post! Nicely put. Technology exists to serve it’s users and a lot of brands seem to forget that. People always scream and shout for choice…that’s how we end up with isles full of toilet paper. Do you really need that kind of choice? Android to me is like toilet paper…that’s right I said it.

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