Is The Industry Moving Closer to Apple's Whole Widget Approach? Not Really

If the iPhone is the Jesus Phone, what's a suitable monicker for Google's Nexus One? Maybe we should call it the My Jesus Phone Can Beat Up Your Jesus Phone (you know, MJPCBUYJP for short), judging by the way some of the press and Android fans have been acting about the device.

(At least one person has a more...colorful name for it, but note there's profanity before you go clickling all willy nilly.)

At long last, Google is making its own Android device, just like Apple makes the iPhone, or so the narrative I've been reading about the device would have us believe. Better yet, because Google is doing what Apple is doing -- developing the hardware and software -- the mighty Google can unseat those arrogant jerks in Cupertino and put the iPhone in its place!

It's all nonsense, of course, but let me preface (or is it now a postface?) that with the fact that I hope Google and the Android platform can step up to the plate and push the envelope in the world of smartphones. As I have often said in the Apple Context Machine in my columns, I love competition, and as a consumer of Apple's products, I want to see the company pushed hard to continue innovating.

And I also believe that Google is one of the few companies in the tech world that can go toe-to-toe with Apple in terms of making a great product. Indeed, they may be one of the few companies that can make products "that just work," which is one of the things I love most about Apple, though they still have to prove that in the world of hardware.

OK, with that Google lovefest out of the way, I've been a little stupefied at the way some people are calling the Nexus One a Google phone. It's not a Google phone, it's a Google-branded phone. It may well even be a Google-designed and Google-branded phone, but it's not a Google phone in the same way that the iPhone is an Apple phone.

My beef here starts with my belief that part of why I enjoy Apple's devices so much is the way in which they work so well, and that this stems from the fact that that both the hardware and the software are controlled by one company. This is that "whole widget" thing that Steve Jobs and other Apple execs talk about from time to time.

When it comes to business philosophy, Apple stands apart from most of the rest of the tech world by pursuing a "whole widget" strategy. While the rest of the computing world embraced the lower cost, rush-to-the-bottom pricing benefits of open licensing, Apple has done, and continues to do, its own thing.

People are finding that the marriage of software and hardware to a committed purpose under one vision can result in a device that not only isn't frustrating, it can sometimes even be awesome.The reality, of course, is that for (too many) years, it did its own thing in a very flawed way, or perhaps I should more accurately say very flawed ways. This is especially true in the years of Steve Jobs' absence from the company, but I think Apple's recent success proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Apple's downfall in the 1990s was not a product of having refused to license the Mac OS, but rather a product of disastrous management and a host of other related issues.

Today Apple owns the digital device market with a proprietary solution, the Mac is seeing quarter after quarter of unit growth and solid market share gains with its proprietary approach, and the company is all but in charge of the smartphone industry with the proprietary iPhone, even though it's not the #1 company in terms of market share in that industry.

There's only one reason for this, in my never-humble opinion, and it's not Apple's admittedly successful marketing. No, it's the fact that millions of people have been finding that they really enjoy working with devices that don't suck. After a generation of Microsoft being in charge of the computing world, people are discovering that they don't have to settle for "good enough," a topic John Martellaro wrote about earlier today.

People are finding, whether or not they actually think about it, that the marriage of software and hardware to a committed purpose under one vision can result in a device that not only isn't frustrating, it can sometimes even be awesome. The proof that there is room in the market for proprietary approaches is inherent in Apple's success today.

(In fact, do me a favor and remind me to write a column about people saying Apple is in danger of repeating the mistake of the Mac with the iPhone.)

I'm well aware that I could be projecting here, but what we've been seeing is the rest of the tech world slowly and vaguely cottoning on to this notion. For instance, Microsoft went proprietary with its Zune line once the planet roundly rejected the craptacular products that resulted in the business-as-usual open licensing model that has been pushed by Big Redmond.

There was even a lot of speculation that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was going to show us a proprietary slate device based on its Courier project at last night's CES keynote (he didn't, but he did show us some third party tablet devices from HP and other companies). The scuttlebut was that Microsoft was embracing Apple's approach, and when Courier does get released we'll see more of that nonsense.

And of course Google developed its own Android device in order to better compete with the iPhone, as I offered way back in the beginning of this piece.

The thing is, though, that they didn't. Google worked with HTC, the handset maker that actually makes the hardware for the Nexus One. That's so bloody far from a proprietary marriage of hardware and software that my blood pressure rose just a little bit more every time I saw someone writing anything to that effect.

I've no doubt that the Nexus One is going to be a successful device, and I personally expect it to be the best Android device on the market for at least the next season. I think many people will love it, and that it will represent a big step forward for the Android platform as a whole. I think it's going to be seen as the turning point in which Android began taking a serious bite out of RIM's BlackBerry share.

Indeed, because the OS maker is in charge of the shipping product, I expect the Nexus One to work better than any smartphone other than the iPhone. But it won't surpass the iPhone in that regard, in part because the team that made the hardware was working under its own vision, with its own plans and goals, and its own agenda -- the OS and the hardware were not developed together with one vision guiding their creation.

I'll readily acknowledge that Google has brought many aspects of the user experience in-house with the Nexus One -- namely the OS itself, designing the specs on the device, and the buying experience -- but it is still a far cry from Google even being able to design and develop everything in-house. Hell, even the fact that the device can be used on a variety of carriers means that the user experience is less controlled than with the iPhone.

While the industry has sat up and taken notice of the fact that people like the results of Apple's way of doing business, developments like Zune, Nexus One, and maybe even Microsoft's unreleased Courier device are really only examples of the industry moving closer to Apple, not actually getting close.