It is amazing to witness the stupidity by which formidable vendors like Acer, LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Dell, Motorola (now Google), Huawei, HTC, eagerly rally behind Google’s Android operating system. In the same way HP, Dell, Compaq, IBM, Acer and many others for years have rallied behind the Windows PC-era dominated by Microsoft.
And where are these vendors now in the PC business? HP is contemplating getting rid of it, Dell is struggling to make its case to be allowed to reinvent itself (why with ailing assets Michael?), Compaq is long gone – gobbled up by greater-fool leadership at HP, IBM wisely dumped its PC business way-back to Lenovo, with Acer and Lenovo now taking the crumbs of the excessive fragmentation that still remains.
History has demonstrated that the dependence on another company’s operating system is bound to yield its licensees enslavement to commoditization and price erosion that will severely challenge profit margins. Let alone deliver “pretty” mediocre consumer value. Do these vendors not realize they are pigeon-holed, and taken for a glorious ride as a low-cost and replaceable distributor of Google’s value proposition?
Sure, in the beginning these distributors will all enjoy some newfound riches where none existed for them before, in large part because of their own complacency to evolution, and suddenly spawned by the public confusion around the plethora of shiny devices that is sure to attract its many opinionated technology ravens.
For now. But rudimentary economics will soon stabilize, and dictate and repeat exactly what happened during the Windows PC-era, including its regression.
Everything has changed nothing
Now, Google’s defense may be to claim Android’s openness as a differentiation to Windows as its predecessor, by which its distributors will have the ability to write custom code (drivers) that allows them to differentiate their hardware offerings.
They can and will. Much like they did on Windows.
Yet, the open computing movement is a drag. Like a ball-and-chain strung to a leg of an able body with a bright mind that wants to run in the other direction. I learned that lesson early on in my technology career, where I saw time and time-again that technology socialism is like all socialism; systemically incapable of detecting the outliers needed to spawn its own timely renewal. And the result is guaranteed to yield a mediocre user experience.
Examples abound. Java in a DVD player is responsible for that Blue-ray DVD tray now opening in no fewer than 1 minute, as well as the opening menu of Avatar appearing no sooner than about 15. That is, if the player has been updated over the Internet recently. Otherwise it won’t play at all. No wonder Google converts Java to proprietary code on Android. The invention of the LDAP directory service, some twenty years ago, still today leaves compliant address book applications, from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Apple and LinkedIn, unable to synchronize flawlessly between them. What a treat! The compliance to wireless network protocols by the majority of technology vendors do connect a large swath of network devices, none of which however allows users to access each other or the internet at the maximum speed possible. And how come we all use computing languages born to produce dynamic layout (HTML derived from SGML), as the foundation for the exact placement of objects on our websites?
Clearly, the technology industry needs to do some heavy rethinking of its own.
Hardware companies, not hardware, are dead
Evolution will turn a child into an adult, and never turns its clock backwards. Likewise, hardware companies from the past need to evolve into hybrid companies, ideally dictating the evolution of its complete value-chain of its integrated hardware and software at maximum velocity, and on its own.
Simply because the merit of a purveyor of technology will be evaluated by its customer on its own. Buyers demand an experience that best serves their purpose, in complete disregard of the technology history, interdependencies, or economies of scale deployed by its purveyors.
Hardware plays an important role in exposing the capacity and reach of the total value proposition. And while the most transformative aspect of a child moving into adulthood will be the development of the brain (software), one cannot neglect the role of the growing body (hardware) to execute on that newfound intelligence.
Pure hardware companies that serve the technology consumer, unwilling or unable to add software to their repertoire, will have a tough row to hoe. Unable to match the rapid pace of evolution by which increasingly best-of-breed technology of the future will renew itself.
Hardware will continue to flourish, albeit inside a company that controls the overall experience, the emergence of its ideas combined with the speed of its execution.
It is not about the phone, stupid
Much to-do is made about phones these days, but phones are merely evolutionary pieces of equipment that drive computing experiences to enhance people’s lives. So, to compare phones by their specs is as irrelevant as comparing people by their number of limbs. It all depends on how they are being used.
You may have noticed Apple on occasion claim responsibility for the majority of mobile internet traffic, despite – one may argue – during a decline of iPhone market share (nebulous; define market). The vast majority of PCs were sold when there was no internet, and plenty of new phones will be sold to people with limited or rudimentary use of the internet. Not in the least because after many years of internet evolution, the “best” of its accessibility remains (quelled by not just the subprime arbitrage of venture capital) a pretty awkward search methodology, rather than a way to find. Seek still often yields the very opposite of find.
The reason for the rapid adoption of the iPhone is that it contains applications that appeal to people’s core needs and desires. Love of music was a more pressing desire than mobile telephony way before the iPhone, and thus music became the motivating driver for its intersection.
Existing socioeconomic drivers dictate the success of technology, not the other way around. Successful technology is, and always will be, subservient to socioeconomic need. No matter how hard many in the technology industry will try to influence and control the opposite.
Google is LEGO 1.0
As a young kid I loved LEGO, and inspired by Citroën’s revolutionary hydropneumatic suspension, built LEGO equivalents with suspension derived from counter-acting rubber bands. On occasion I still help my 9-year old daughter imagine new things to build, from the many different pieces she has collected over time.
While fun for me as entrepreneur, to imagine and build new things from scratch, LEGO’s early strategy of selling only its individual pieces almost became its downfall. Reality is few people can imagine, have patience for, or make time to explore the endless possibilities of the tools provided. They need to be shown the way of how to benefit from technology, without requiring them to understand its complexities. And LEGO now comes with detailed step-by-step instructions of how to build the objects displayed in final form on its box.
Users need to be able to abstain from a technology language barrier in order to benefit from technology. And to a greenfield of 80% of the worlds population, who are still not connected to high-speed internet, and therefore unfamiliar with applications that can make use of it, even step-by-step instructions can be daunting, if not time-consuming.
Nothing makes that more clear than a porch session I had with a friend with an Android phone, who after I convinced her to use Google Voice for her new business, then asked me to help activate it on her phone. The instructions provided in some help section were not only incomplete, it required detailed knowledge of the application and the phone, to find and install. Let alone activate and have it integrate flawlessly with Google’s email and phone system.
Frankly, Google Voice was easier to install on my iPhone than on Android. And worse, Google offered no differentiated integration, whatsoever. A huge missed opportunity.
The problem highlighted by, but not limited to this example, is that Google’s unique technological advantages need to be “sold” to a greenfield audience, that is unlikely to have an understanding of the intricacies and inner workings of the internet. And thus despite the availability of some great tools, will not discover nor benefit from it. Quite similar to how users experienced their Windows personal computers, full of advanced capabilities if they only knew where to find, how to install and how to use them.
Google needs to learn to fill its proverbial LEGO box not with individual pieces of technology, but with the finished product for immediate use (across its technology silos). That is, if it wants to do more than regurgitate its installed base.
Room to breathe
In 2006, I laid out the ideas and the framework, to a now departed Apple VP, to take its iOS to a whole new level of smarts. Not simply by offering to clean up the interface, but by fundamentally improving on what a smart phone would and could do. By becoming smart, and using hybrid computing to alleviate the mobile device from the heaviest lifting, and excessive taxation on battery life.
But it went nowhere. Probably because at that time it was inconceivable great ideas could be born outside of Apple, and few had the guts to stand them up to Steve Jobs. And now, with Steve gone, and not a single piece of upstream innovation from Apple since, Google has just been given more breathing room to run amok with the technology void left behind. Not in the least because it still makes most of its money as an advertising pimp, the nemesis of customer value.
Microsoft’s macro-economic strategy is non-renewable, as its partners have painfully come to realize now too. Now it is up to all parties involved to prove they have learned from the past, and are not the mindless donkeys their current actions remind me of. They must begin to drive computing strategies that are as renewable as the people who will buy them.