I was expecting a lot from the “Made by Google” conference and, regrettably, it left much to be desired. There were no surprises, no revolutions, no WOW factors. It was like being at Apple’s iPhone 7 keynote. If there was one message that I took home from the conference and from my last few months observing Google, it’s that the two American giants have much more in common than you might think.
Before I begin, I just want to mention that this isn’t about determining whether one of the manufacturers is better than the other, but rather about observing the facts and giving my opinion on the topic. Perhaps you won’t agree with me and may even think that I’m completely off the mark, so please don’t hesitate to (politely!) let me know by leaving a comment below.
Starting point and evolution
At the end of 2007, Apple began marketing its first iPhone. It showcased its technical feats by making clear that the smartphone was running under a different operating system from any other mobile device of the time and that this system was only available for the Apple iPhone. Later, this system was named iPhone OS, then iOS and then it was configured into different versions that expressed its technical development.
In 2005, before the iPhone was introduced to the world, Google bought Android. Back then, Android was a startup business that had developed a system that integrated a camera, among other things, and Google wanted to make this system free and accessible to all manufacturers. In other words, before the development of a mobile system, the idea of having an OS that was accessible to everyone already existed. At the end of 2007, Google wanted to rival Apple and so it released its first version of Android (1.0), which has since evolved into today’s Android 7.1 Nougat.
Ultimately, we have two completely different strategies: Apple developed a system for its own devices, Google developed a system that could be used by anyone (provided that the device meets the necessary technical requirements). For this reason, Apple was always considered selfish and self-centered while Google was considered a hero acting to benefit the community. But that was then.
Hardware and software design
Things have changed or rather, things are changing. Google is greedy and having seen a gap in the mobile market, it wants fill it all alone. The problem is, by giving everyone access to AOSP, Google is providing other manufacturers with the tools to help themselves to a piece of the market. Of course, Google is a smarty-pants and knows this: the more people who use Google and its services, even if it is through other manufacturers, the more money it will make.
For this reason, it’s unlikely that Google will change its open door policy regarding software, but it could develop other elements to its advantage. Following Apple’s example, Google wanted to create its own smartphone brand that we know today as the Pixel (unlike Nexus smartphones, through which Google had to share the glory with the manufacturer that helped with production). Having their own range of smartphones is of course intriguing, but it’s not really that interesting if you get the same thing (in terms of software) that already exists on other smartphones. So Google decided to optimize Pixel’s software and provide a system that was neither 100 % Android nor 100 % Google.
Google maintained its software-genius reputation but also produced smartphones that, although they were manufactured by HTC (apparently originally known for being a white label) are totally “Google-ized”. In some ways, Google is going in the same direction as Apple. Fortunately for other manufacturers, Google continues to share key elements of Android.
Attracted by quality
Apple is famous for many reasons but one of the biggest reasons without a doubt is the extortionate price of its devices. The iPhone 7 is no exception to this rule. It’s impossible to find the new device for less than $600. As for the iPhone7 Plus, it’s well above the $750 mark. Apple justifies this price in several ways: it’s an entry ticket into the brand’s ecosystem but it’s also a high quality device.
Through the Nexus series, Google had retained its status as a hero to the people by producing good smartphones at an affordable price. Then came a time that changed things. In 2015, the Nexus 6P cost over $500. Google has really gone for it with the Pixel.
What bothered me in this Google conference was that it was too conventional. Yes, the Google Pixel is probably the best smartphone ever, with excellent hardware, perfectly complemented by Daydream, etc. but at the end of the day, Google has done the same thing as everyone else: it produced the most powerful smartphone, with the best technical specifications, that allows you to do everything that other phones do but better. Daydream is the type of thing that kept me entertained for two to three days and then I quickly forgot about it. Silent updates and other novelties are interesting but not revolutionary. I expected to see something completely new with a massive wow factor but I didn’t see it this year, despite what Google promised us. Waterproof devices are also becoming old news.
In the end, perhaps the most interesting things (or the most worrying, depending on how you look at it) are the Google layer and the quick updates. The only thing that is interesting (in my opinion) about the iPhone is iOS despite some major flaws. Google Assistant is useful but, unfortunately, doesn’t exist yet in every language. Perhaps Pixel’s launcher and other elements will be compelling.
To sum it all up, Apple wants to produce a smartphone that fits into one's daily routine regarding battery performance and efficiency, being 100 % Apple. Google wants to bring out the best in a smartphone, taking into account different uses and different technologies and being 100 % Google.
What I mean by "ecosystem" is a system of which the elements work in harmony, making the user dependent (to a particular element or to a group of elements). This allows the business to maintain or increase its number of users and provide stability, perhaps for financial returns.
Apple has always been rallied against for its ecosystem: Apple products function under an Apple system that is unique to Apple users. The firm emphasizes the synergy between products and brand services, ensuring quality so that the users could never imagine leaving such a successful ecosystem. All you need is an Apple device and an ID to access the brand’s free services, applications and to be able to most effectively sync your devices to one another. In other words, Apple pushes the customer to directly or indirectly invest in their products and use their services.
Google is a bit more subtle but it also uses its ecosystem despite the wide dispersal of devices. Behind Android hides a multitude of Google services that come pre-installed for the majority of phones (except some Chinese smartphones). Unlike Apple, who force their users to create an account in order to use their device, Google only asks for a Gmail email address to gain access to Google’s services, in particular for the popular Play Store that allows you to install other applications. Of course, you can install APK and avoid the store entirely but I think that the vast majority of people use it without giving it any second thought. Google also offers different services, the most popular being video streaming with YouTube and Google Maps.
With Pixel, Google goes even further with its ecosystem’s software since it now offers unique features for the Pixel. For example, a personalized Google interface on a Google device for users that don’t just want Google’s own interface. Both companies produce computers (Mac vs Chromebooks), smartphones (iPhone vs Pixel), TV accessories (Apple TV vs Chromecast), music services (iTunes vs Play Music)...
It seems that Google inspires Apple on some levels: tariffs, including branding on hardware and software and demonstrating a strong desire to show its identity on its own devices. Despite everything, Google approaches things differently as it still shares Android instead of closing it off. But this isn’t out of pure selflessness, its profits come from the users themselves.
As Sun Tzu said in “The Art of War”: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”. Google has got to know Apple and has been inspired to better itself to truly be noticed. Google no longer wants to gain new users as it already is the market leader (by a mile). It wants to establish itself as the mobile world’s shining star. Google simply wants to be recognized in the way that it believes it deserves. When ego meets economy.
Of course, many of you will tell me that Apple copies everyone, but I think that these days everyone copies everyone, especially when it comes to design. From another perspective, we should also mention Samsung who apparently, if you believe the rumors, also want to establish their own ecosystem through their own operating system.
Are you a Google or an Apple fan? Or Samsung? Or none of the three?