Is the mobile tech press wrong in positioning Apple vs. Google?

When I got back from CES I’ve been seeing an increasing number of stories, like this one on Techmeme, that are comparing Apple’s mobile strategy and products to Google’s mobile strategy and products.

Oh, we do love a good fight, don’t we, where two great competitors bloody each other to a pulp before one comes out victorious.

The thing is, I don’t see Google and Apple as beating themselves up. At least not yet and probably not until 2011 or maybe even 2012.

“OK, Scoble smarty pants, what’s going on then?”

There are two competitors, don’t get me wrong, but instead of Apple vs. Google it’s Web-and-app-friendly devices vs. non-web-and-app-friendly devices.

Apple and Google’s devices are all web friendly. They are easy to use to pull up information from the web. But most of the world’s phones aren’t that way. Go to any cell phone store and try pulling up a web browser on them. Google and Apple’s products make it simple. Most of the others make it very hard, and even if you succeed you probably have trouble navigating the web, or are faced with a dinky small screen.

It’s worse than that if you compare app platforms. At CES last week I met an exec at Research In Motion, the folks that make the Blackberry. He bragged to me that they were building their own Twitter and Facebook clients. I didn’t get the bragging and asked him “so I guess you aren’t trying to build a platform, then?” I explained to him that if you build your own apps that signals to your third-party developers that you want them to go away and work on something else because you’re demonstrating that you’re very willing to take the best opportunities away from them.

Ever since then I’ve been asking developers what they think and on Saturday the guy (Michael Schneider, CEO of Mobile Roadie) who built the Golden Globes’ iPhone app (and the LeWeb iPhone app) was over my house and I asked him. He told me that he’s working on building for the Blackberry platform too, because there’s so many users there but he said that the Blackberry is very difficult to build for. You really should listen to this interview, because in it you encapsulated what is happening to the entire mobile market.

Schneider didn’t hold anything back against Nokia or Microsoft, either. He just sees confusion and instability on those platforms.

Let’s break down the marketplace:

Apple: best of breed web-and-app-friendly mobile device.
Google: very close to Apple. Because my iPhone didn’t work very well at CES I gave the Google Nexus One and the Droid a good amount of usage last week. While the Droid isn’t as easy in a number of areas (search expert Danny Sullivan outlined most of the ones that bug me too) its apps, like Google Maps, are dramatically better than those that exist on other platforms and the web was mostly enjoyable to use too.
Nokia: confused. Multiple app stores. Just introduced a new platform with the N900 that’s different from their phones that have most of the market share.
Palm: is with Google and Apple in that they have a web-and-app-friendly phone, but they put it on a device with a small screen that ruins the experience for me.
Microsoft: struggling to get a strategy that works. Paul Thurrott, Microsoft expert, just this morning wrote up the troubles that Microsoft has right now and how it might dig out this year.
RIM: Difficult to develop for, most of its devices have very small screens that are hard to use on the web. Great keyboards, though, and great email integration.

Anyway, we can see a clear demarcation now in the industry between those who make web-and-app-friendly devices and those that do not.

It is my thesis that this year those who do will steal market share from those that do not and a confused strategy, like Nokia has, is going to look mixed because consumers will go with a company like Apple or Google who has said “we’re all in.”

So, is it right for the tech press to keep pitching Apple vs. Google like a couple of boxers who are going at it?

Or, do we need a new metaphor? I keep thinking that Apple and Google are like tigers and lions and all the old phones are like zebras or antelope and we all know what happens there.

Comments

  1. agree! i wrote a post, in Chinese, a day after Nexus One launched. Google and Apple have launched their phones and application stores. However their visions are different. To Google, the phones, including Droid and other Android handsets, represent new opportunities in search ad revenue as new search technologies have been invited for mobile, and not limited to Android, but also including iPhone and S60 platform. Therefore, merely comparing the handsets, or online application stores, may not fully picture the development of their mobile strategies.

  2. Very true, it is Google and Apple together that will make smartphones become the majority by 2011 (as IDC predicts at least). Just because they both have devices and have now both purchased ad networks we are doing the comparison.

    What I see the struggle between mobile web and mobile apps. Google has talked openly about support for mobile web vs supporting multiple apps, whereas the iPhone is more of an app-centric device. Apple supports full browsing but it is the apps that are drawing the attention.

  3. Very true, it is Google and Apple together that will make smartphones become the majority by 2011 (as IDC predicts at least). Just because they both have devices and have now both purchased ad networks we are doing the comparison.

    What I see the struggle between mobile web and mobile apps. Google has talked openly about support for mobile web vs supporting multiple apps, whereas the iPhone is more of an app-centric device. Apple supports full browsing but it is the apps that are drawing the attention.

  4. Until we're at a point where the carriers and the handsets are completely independent of each other — or Google or Apple puts out a phone for other carriers — the two aren't necessarily competing head to head anyway. Sure, a lot of people switched to AT&T for the iPhone, but many people still make decisions based on carriers, which then locks them in to a set of handsets. This is why the argument about specific devices vs other devices doesn't make much sense, because there is an extra constraint that often supersedes choice in device. However, as you say, the classes of devices stretch across carriers, so the debate really is between “mobile Web platforms” and “phones + maybe email.”

    Besides, it's kind of like the Apple vs Microsoft debate. Sure, they're competitors, but it's not nearly as direct as people make it out to be. Apple is in the hardware business, primarily, while Microsoft is in the software business, primarily. Same with Google. Their business isn't hardware, it's Web services (advertising, etc).

  5. Completely agree with this – the Old Guard like Nokia need to be wary about being pushed into only having the low end of the market to play in. That way lies squeezing profits as consumers seek out as much tech as they can get for their $20.

    My only other thought is how Google may upset their other hardware partners that follow an Android-only strategy (such as Motorola). If these guys are going to be competing directly with Google, they may end up giving Windows Mobile 7 more consideration purely to give themselves strategic room to manoeuvre. Of course this all depends on WiMo7 being a viable alternative to Android, something that's far from certain.

  6. I would suggest that they are competitors, the real topic here though is not that they are competing in the market. The real topic is that the market is taking a huge shift away from telecoms controlling the devices to computer specialists making devices that the market obviously wants. The entire ecosystem has been shaken to its very roots by the actions of Apple and Google. MS and Nokia have always played the telecom's games with small advances in device capability. Apple just came out and kicked then all in the groin with a co-ordinated attack on the telecom business. Google has followed suit with Android and then the Nexus One.

    My guess is that sooner or later the pipes are gonna get real dumb and that one of the three will buy one of the telecoms and totally integrate the entire system. Then things are going to get really interesting.

  7. Many smartphone users take their easy web access for granted. The only smart phone I've owned is an iPhone but I'm likely to move to an Android next year (or when 4G comes to my area).

    We assume (perhaps wrongly) that there will only be a couple of major players on the smartphone market. If anyone bypasses phone/SMS completely in favor of raw data plans, they'll win my $$.

  8. I have to listen to all your material before I can really comment, but let me ask you this, Scoble: If one quarter of the people in the US have cells and pay anything like $70 a month, what' s the bucket that apple and google are fighting for? Oh, wikipedia says 271,000,000 cells in the us.

    Okay, 50 a month bimtes two hundred fifty million. one billion and change. A year. No! A month.

    And you think you can call this fight? You haven't seen anything yet.

    Over 12 Billion dollars a year. Your friends will correct my numbers here, probably moving them up. Love your work. Love your commenters. Later….

    Suppositio.us

  9. agree that there's tons of white space in the market. also agree it is basically got two leaders–goog and apple–everyone else has miles to go to even be legitimate as platform contender.

    i do think google is very well positioned in h2h battle with apple, especially around being developer friendly. apple has done much good, but also is wayyyyy too controlling with its stupid app approval process. i expect that as goog/android gains unit share, developers will increasingly look at and help it achieve primacy.

    http://bit.ly/7X97a4

  10. great interview and post. i think the real battle will be b/w android and iphone – these will be the only viable alternatives for consumers (altho google still has a little catch up to do). the only potential challenger on a global scale is nokia – it is the only OEM investing significantly in creating an end to end service experience. but as michael points out in the interview the execution is a little weak/confused thus far.

  11. Hey scoble, When you post a video of any interview please make sure you also mention the URL of the company or the personal page of that person somewhere in the post.

    Thanks

  12. Tigers and lions might go after each other if they lived in the same continent.

    But no matter how big Google gets in the phone business it will never eat Apple completely, just as Microsoft's market share in the computer world has never completely eaten Apple, but merely taken a bite out of it, a bite which you can see in the logo to this day.