Evolving vs. Arriving
by Pete Gerr on March 16, 2011
In January, Google’s Android operating system leapfrogged both #2, Apple and long-time leader, RIM to capture the top spot in U.S. smartphone subscriber share. I’ve written previously about my affinity for both Apple and Google products, but the Android vs. iOS battle to me is a study in business models, approaches to product design and about whether one chooses to “arrive” with a big bang or “evolve” incrementally, in the quest for market dominance.
Apple arrives while Google evolves. Everything Apple does from products to events to their retail stores is well-designed and perfectly orchestrated. Whether you’re a fan of Apple or not, the company and its products evoke strong emotions and display a mastery for marketing and not simply selling “a thing” but an experience, a lifestyle and image. When Apple announces a new product or even an update to an existing product, like the iPhone 4 or recently announced iPad 2, it’s a major, often global, event time after time.
Taking a different approach, Google is the proverbial experimenter, releasing Beta versions of products into the wild, maintaining a very transparent Google Labs where users can test drive still in-development ideas. Google’s outward persona is very much like that of its engineers – a little rough around the edges perhaps, but brilliant, and always thinking, changing and evolving even with its “flagship” products like Gmail and Google Maps. Even the most important Google announcement in recent history, the announcement of Android 3.0, “Honeycomb”, felt more like a large conference call in a conference room than an event.
What’s remarkable to me is how quickly Google’s Android OS has evolved and matured, with 4 major versions being released in the past 15 months. Their ascendancy to capture the #1 spot isn’t as much of a surprise given their business model (more on that below).
Apple hasn’t exactly been sitting still, releasing a new version of its iOS software which runs across the iPhone, iPad and iPod devices, regularly, along with a new iPhone generation roughly every 12 months.
The two, however, have very different approaches to nearly every aspect of the product lifecycle and go-to-market.
Google leverages an agile development method to iterate their products very quickly, hold to short intervals between releases (typically 6 months compared to 12 or 18 for other vendors) and the result is a much more fluid product cycle. Google adopted an open source approach to the Linux-based Android OS, but is also open in how it licenses the OS to phone manufacturers. This results in dozens of Android models in nearly every conceivable shape, size, color and price point. Android-based phones are more customizable than iPhones with countless color schemes, font themes, UI layouts and even totally different builds of the core OS, called ROMs available for anyone to try.
There is basically one iPhone, but it single-handedly changed the face of the mobile industry when it was first introduced in 2007. Four years and four generations later, people still wait in line to get the latest and greatest when it’s released. Apple’s dedication to product design and user experience is both legendary and admirable, and the company typically doesn’t deliver until it’s ready (the introduction of the iPhone 4 and antennagate notwithstanding). The consumer is all but guaranteed a consistently great experience from day one with any Apple product, although the iPhone is often criticized as a closed product. Apple approves all apps before their release to the App store, for example, in addition to keeping 30% of the revenue from sales. It’s a curated experience – Apple promises you a great product, but you have to play by its rules.
There are, of course, downsides to both approaches. Apple benefits greatly from “1st-mover advantage” – getting a game-changing product (iPod, iPhone, iPad) to market ahead of its competitors and capturing significant market and mindshare. The longer intervals between its product releases, however, means that users have to wait a year or longer for the next shiny thing to come. The closed nature of Apple’s products also seems to be gaining more detractors – Wired magazine called the iPhone a “jeweled masterpiece locked in a sleek protective shell,” while others have derided design choices like the inability to allow users to easily change the iPhone’s battery.
Android was “a seed meant to grow a new wireless family tree.” And like a tree would grow to have dozens of different branches, or in this case, UI variants (Motoblur, HTC Sense, Samsung’s Life Smart). Google doesn’t charge manufacturers for its software, which makes it attractive for both handset manufacturers and carriers hence the dozens of Android-powered phones from nearly every carrier on the planet.
Choice is something consumers love, but maintaining consistency in how and when those different devices receive software updates has proven challenging and frustrating to users.When Google releases a new Android version phone manufacturers take it, test it and tweak it, adding their own customized apps or UI and make sure it runs across their many devices and then begin to push it out to the handsets. Even the app developer community has expressed frustration with the Android model. The difference is Apple is managing this process for a single device, while the Android ecosystem is much larger and therefore more complex and becoming more fragmented every day.
In the end, I think it comes down to choice and risk – choice for everyone across the value chain from developer to manufacturer to consumer. But also risk since less mature products are less stable and with a vendor who adopts an evolving technology, what you buy may more quickly become “yesterday’s tech”.
As a technology company do you pursue the “arrive” philosophy of making a big bang with your product introductions, trying to define and own a market niche and reap the rewards of 1st mover advantage? The developer and consumer are rewarded with a stable development environment, polished and a highly-refined product that “just works” as long as they don’t mind playing by the rules.
Or do you move quickly – constantly iterating along multiple branches, taking a long view but favoring time-to-market, flexibility and the law of evolution over the big bang? With this approach, consumers certainly have the benefit of choice in the market, but as the ecosystem may become more fragmented and costly for developers or partners to participate; is there enough justification (read: revenue) to sustain the pace?
HDS, I believe, tries to strike a balance between arriving and evolving to reduce the risk that our customers face but to also give them the most innovative products and solutions available without compromising quality. For example, the VSP is at once a game-changing product in what it enables our customers to achieve in terms of performance, efficiency and scalability but marks the 5th generation our market-leading storage virtualization engine and of the crossbar switch architecture that underlies it.
So perhaps there is both a life lesson and a business model lesson to be learned from Apple vs. Google…balance might be the key to happiness…just not necessarily market dominance.
What do you think?
Have you thought about the Apple / iPhone vs. Google / Android models and care to share your thoughts and perspectives on it?
Do you think Apple’s adherence to its “curated” design philosophy will continue to deliver win after win?
Will Google’s “open” approach and #1 smartphone position dwindle in the face of developer frustration and mixed user experience?
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Comments (2 )
[...] Evolving vs. Arriving [...]
Being a recent convert to the iPhone, and a relatively new fan/user of other Apple products, I have to say that it appears to me that Apple’s resurgence over the last few years is testament to the success of their curated, vertically integrated approach to product development, release and marketing. They seem to simply “get” how to produce stunning consumer products and experiences.
On the other hand, compare this to say the horizontal, partner eco-system developed world of Windows PCs and you can easily see the difference: lots of choice but also years with lots of frustration by users and the occasional mocking of the franchise throughout the industry. The Mac vs. PC advertising campaign was sheer genius in feeding off and propagating this zeitgeist.
I don’t have any experience yet with Android phones, but I find it interesting that Google has adopted the latter of the two models. Surely this will lead to similar challenges over time as happened in the PC industry. It remains to be seen which will win in the smartphone world, but my guess is that there are more than enough current, and potential new users to, ensure the continued success of both Apple iOS and Google Android.
In the end, I agree with the supposition that balance is key to life happiness as well as business success.