“Millions of men have lived to fight, build palaces and boundaries, shape destinies and societies; but the compelling force of all times has been the force of originality and creation profoundly affecting the roots of human spirit." -- Ansel Adams
Apple and Google are engaged in a fight for our technological souls. With a temporary lull in activity from Apple, it looks as if Google is winning the war. But really? What will determine the winner in the long run not simply new product announcements. It's something else.
Competition between the giants Apple and Google is heating up at an enormous pace. Sure, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft are in the mix as competitors in a formal sense. However, the two companies battling for our technological way of life are Apple and Google.
Google is working with systems that are open to all. There are few constraints, and anything goes. When there's nothing to hold a company back, except those negative people in the press Google's Larry Page complained about this week, the sky's the limit.
From one perspective, the agressive development of technology and services, like Google Glass, Android, Google Now, Google+ and Google Hangouts can generate a lot of jazz. (I remain enthusiastic about Google Glass.) Journalists see exciting new technologies that can help them in their jobs. The discussion of the potential of the technologies earns them their living: a lively discussion of the gadgets of our time.
On the other hand, such a rapid change in technology creates fear, uncertainty, nervousness about loss of privacy, possible government snooping and possible misuse or misinterpretation of personal information. Many people are wondering about the trade-offs. Does a given service truly serve them?
Who Do you Trust?
Let's be blunt. Apple and Google are both in business to make money. They are at each other's throats in maps, smartphones, search services, music, books, apps and, indirectly, the courts. Both companies are wealthy, and both have the means to develop disruptive new technologies that appeal to us.
However, it has become, from what I've seen, unfashionable to talk about what the ultimate motivation of each company is. It's a sticky, unsavory proposition that takes sides. All technology is much more fun and profitable to write about. However, where is the important conversation about what each company ultimately wants to achieve?
In the end, the company that wins, or at least surges ahead of the other, is the one that understands how to meet basic human needs and fulfill our spirit better than the other. Fundamentally, human beings want to feel in control, not be betrayed or tricked, have others respectful of their time and privacy, and feel that their choice of tools serves them well.
For example, if I set a geofence to remind me that when I'm at at the grocery store, I should remember to buy eggs, then that facility serves me and my family. If, however, a Google map API allows Starbucks to push a coupon in my face when I'm within a certain distance of a Starbucks establishment, then I feel tricked, manipulated, panicked. The underlying technology is the same, but the vision for how it's used and who profits by it is different.
An even bigger question is: how does Apple help us formulate this conversation? Certainly, one contrast is the recent iPhone 5 TV ad that celebrates what we can do with the camera. Compare that to Android ads that celebrate the snark and the geek side of technology. Emptiness. Even so, when it comes to Big Discussions about technology at the tech websites, that nuance is mostly overlooked. We end up with sterile, dreary discussions of how Google is kicking Apple's behind. "The Epic Battle Between Apple & Google Is All But Over - Who Won." In that article, the author doesn't even begin to properly assess Apple's true strengths. It's as if he just landed on planet earth.
Changing the Conversation
Google, to be sure, is aggressively developing new and exciting technologies, but the end result of all of them has a single unifying theme: using information about us to help them and their business partners make money. How far we go in accepting that value proposition is the challenge of our time. Naturally, salesmanship means that keeping the conversation focused on these exciting new technologies helps Google distract customers (and tech journalists) from Apple's valuable approach and vision about what it tries to achieve with technology.
Human beings want to live a considered life of productivity, recognition, peace, family, respect and dignity. Apple's focus has always been on developing products that bring out the best in us, inspire us, and remain true to the human spirit. That puts Apple at a disadvantage at times. The company cannot just throw stuff out there at a relentless pace to see what sticks. There must be some calm measure, some attention to what makes products great. That takes time and patience by all concerned. Have we forgotten?
In the final analysis, that's what we want from a company. We don't mind making Apple rich if we share in a mutual vision. But to become a mindless automaton, endlessly buffeted by advertisers, crying out for attention, pleading for our money and time, prying into our behavior and preferences, carried to extremes, is demeaning. The trick is to seduce us into thinking we're ever so cool even as we're being manipulated. Shall we fall for that?
Right now, Apple doesn't have a visible, vocal, charming spokesperson who is skilled, articulate and persuasive to remind us. That's why it's helpful, from time to time, to reflect on why we are Apple customers. And why, in the long run, working with the fundamentals of human needs will be how Apple will earn our loyalty and remain competitive.
Tech News Debris for the Week of May 13
One of the afflictions of our age is TV commercials. In the year 2013, the networks and carriers have still not figured out how to target ads on network TV. As a result, happy and devoted Subaru owners cannot watch TV without being pummeled by ads for Chevy pickups.
It's all a monumental waste of time, and as Internet technologies, independent efforts on Netflix, tablets and apps gain an ever stronger foothold, people are finding new and better ways to pay for entertainment. Here's a nice synopsis: "Good news for Google Fiber: Broadcast TV audiences are cratering faster than ever." I have always felt that if Apple is going to make real progress in its rumored HDTV project, attention to this new way of watching TV will have to play an important role.
Have you heard of the "Network Effect"? Ben Bajarin explores the Network Effect and how Microsoft has missed out on it. It also relates to the money to be made by developers of iOS apps. The fascinating analysis by Mr. Bajarin is here: "Microsoft is Missing Apps the Same Way They Missed the Early Internet."
Along the lines of my discussion in the preamble, one has to dig a little to find the off-mainstream analysis of some of today's services like example Google+. Molly McHugh writes, insightfully, in "I finally figured out why I don’t like Google+: It wasn’t built for me."
And that’s because Google+ isn’t for us –- it’s for Google. At a fireside chat during I/O, Google+ developers address some of the lurking questions about why we should be using the service. 'There happens to be a product at plus.google.com and an app,' said G+ director of engineering David Glazer (via Forbes). 'But really it’s a way for Google to get to know our users. Who they have relationships with. We give them the ability to share. That layer, that spine, that backbone, is intended to help us make search, Maps, YouTube, Gmail, etc. better. That’s the real point of Google+.'
[What? You didn't know? -JM ]
...the wide reach of Google’s services means that the layer of G+ is doing plenty when it comes to amassing user data -- but it’s why we continue to feel unsatisfied whenever we login and actually look at Google+."
Some sort of basic human need seems to be missing. Hmm, I seem to have heard about that before.
Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event of the week combined with a summary of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.