Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Google Android vs. iPhone: It’s 1984 All Over Again

June 2, 2008 16 comments

Android vs. iPhoneBack in 1984, Apple was on top of the computing world with top-notch sexy hardware and it partnered with Microsoft for some top-notch [not so] sexy practical software. It was a winning combination for both Apple and Microsoft. Microsoft’s strategy in 1984 was hardware agnostic making its software available on any popular platform. Apple’s strategy in 1984 was holistic. We’ll call the period between 1984 and 2000, Round 1.

In Round 1, it turned out that Microsoft’s strategy was the clear-cut winner. By being hardware agnostic, hardware vendors competed with one-another to drive down the price of hardware much faster than anyone could have imagined. Clone prices fell so fast and so much lower than the price of a Macintosh that it simply became impractical to own a Mac. Software vendors also took note and quickly the non-Mac-PC became the standard. Apple nearly died.

2007 set off Round 2. This time around it’s in the cell phone business. Once again, Apple is on top of the Cell Phone game with top-notch sexy hardware and it has partnered with Google this time for some top-notch [not so] sexy practical software (think Google Maps, YouTube and other web-based Google Apps for the iPhone). Once again, it’s a winning partnership for both Apple and Google. And Once again, Google’s strategy is exactly the same to that of Microsoft in 1984: stay hardware agnostic. Apple’s strategy is also identical to its own strategy back in 1984: stay holistic. Round 2 has begun.

The similarities are eery. In 1984, while Microsoft was building the most popular application software on the Mac, it had begun a similar hardware-agnostic operating system (Windows) on its own. In 2007, while Google has some of the most popular application software on iPhone, it has begun a similar hardware agnostic Cell-Phone operating system (Android) on its own. Apple’s strategy has not changed a single bit. It refuses to license its operating system or any other technology while it continues to want more and more control over the entirety of the experience. The iPhone in 2007 has set off a brand new race much like the original Macintosh did in 1984. Interestingly, 24 years later, the strategies are still identical on both sides.  

So will Round 2 end in the same way with Google’s Android prevailing due to exceptionally cheap phones that are sure to emerge using Android? Maybe not. There is one key difference between Round 1 & Round 2: Steve Jobs. Steve didn’t get to finish fighting the strategy that he helped establish for Apple in Round 1. He left Apple in 1985. So there’s no telling how things would have turned out. The fact that Apple lost round 1 may have taught everyone a lesson and it might falsely embolden Google to think Microsoft’s winning strategy was the better strategy. After all, Google’s chief, Eric Schmit, has been learning from (and losing to) Microsoft for 20+ years. Eric is now using Microsoft’s own strategy to successfully beat them. Google is the new Microsoft.

But this time around Steve is much smarter than he was in 1984. So smart in fact, that he’s resurrected Round 1 from the dead and may still pull off a win (the Mac is coming back). It’s possible that Steve & Apple’s holistic approach will still be the winning approach for Round 1, assuming you extend round 1 to at least 2015. But in Round 2 Apple’s chances are a lot better. Everybody is at the beginning of the race. There are no clear winners and just like in 1984, Apple has a major lead. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on:

  • Who you think will win Round 2: will it be Google with its Android or Apple with its iPhone? 
  • Is Round 1 over in your view or will the Mac eventually beat out Windows-based PCs in market share?
  • Is Microsoft even a player in Round 2? (I would never recommend a current Windows-Mobile phone to my worst enemy – so do they even stand a chance?)
Leave a comment with your views.

The Scorecard: Apple, Dell, Google and Microsoft

January 21, 2008 13 comments

Last week I attended MacWorld for the very first time. I was the only attendee running Windows Vista on a Dell notebook. I had to avoid Jobs just so I didn’t get kicked out of the event. If he’s quick to tell a fan how rude they are for requesting a picture, imagine what he would have told me if he would have seen me with a Dell!

The Jobs Keynote was absolutely awesome. One of my favorite announcements was the major upgrade to Apple TV with HD Movie rentals. To me, this completely eliminates the need for either HD-DVD or Blu-Ray. The MacBook Air was also a phenomenal product. Unbelievably thin!

But the MacWorld event was far from perfect. In fact, when compared to Microsoft events it was the worst event I had ever attended. I have been to quite a few Microsoft events including PDC, TechNet, Mix, WWPC and several internal events and I had never seen anything as poorly organized as the MacWorld event. Everything from the MacWorld web site, to event guides, schedules, registration, food and staff was the worst I had ever seen. Considering how insanely great Apple products are, I was expecting an Apple-like quality to the event, which did not exist. The event was so amateur in flow and feel that a typical Microsoft event attendee would have guessed this was the first event of its kind. Even then, it would have been inexcusable.

That triggered me to think about a scorecard for four of the main tech companies in our industry: Apple, Microsoft, Dell and Google. Each of these companies is exceptional at something, but none of them are great at all. Without any scientific data to back my claims, here is how I would personally rate the best company in each category:

Apple, Dell, Google and Microsoft

Operating Systems – Apple’s Tiger and Leopard both outshine Vista for a number of reasons: performance, overall system responsiveness, included user apps, system stability and better search. As an operating system, Apple’s OS X is clearly better than Vista.

Notebooks – If Apple’s notebook designs, magnetic power cords, slot load DVDs, weight or ultra small size had not won you over, the fact that each of Apple’s notebooks outperform the others in their class should get you to notice. The MacBook Pro was named the fastest Windows notebook reviewed by PC Magazine! There’s no question Apple makes the best Notebooks.

Desktops – Although Apple’s desktop offerings are somewhat limited with the iMac, Mac Mini and Mac Pro, there aren’t comparable systems that come close in packaging, size and performance in any of the categories. Dell’s XPS All-in-one is a blatant copy of the iMac. It’s too little too late.

Servers – Dell’s server line still outshines Apple in filling the variety of needs as well as beating Apple on price and the badly needed services for high-availability.

Hardware Variety – Dell is the hands down winner in providing the largest variety of hardware. Ironically, this could be a double-edged sword for them making it much more difficult to improve a product line that contains hundreds of products vs. just dozens.

Hardware Configurability – Again, Dell comes out ahead of Apple on configurability, but once again, this is a double edged sword. While it’s great that Dell offers 10 different video cards, the lack of focus ensures a hit or miss when it comes to drivers.

Product Aesthetics – I don’t need to comment on this one. Most companies couldn’t spell Aesthetics until Jobs came back to Apple.

Web Applications – Google is the clear winner when it comes to web applications for a variety of reasons: super fast pages, no clutter, ads that you don’t mind, always available and free. Microsoft’s MSN and other web offerings have always fallen short on all of those criteria.

Developer Tools – There’s no question that Microsoft takes the cake on this one. The Visual Studio product line has been a slam dunk winner with developers, thanks in large part to Scott Guthrie. Scott is one of the only remaining executives at Microsoft who gets it, but the rest of the world is catching up fast and Scott is fighting an uphill battle with the rest of gang at Microsoft.

Developer/Partner Programs – Microsoft again clearly has the better developer and partner programs with Empower ISV, Certified and Gold partnerships. They also have a longer history of being relatively nice to partners when compared with Apple (or even Oracle). Even Steve Jobs admitted that Microsoft has always been better at partnering that Apple. The shaky iTunes partnerships are a great example of Apple failing to keep even large partners happy.

Conferences & Events – If you’ve ever been to a Microsoft event, you know that registration is fast, organization of class schedules and web site management of individual schedules rocks and the abundance of food, drinks and snacks are nearly overboard. By contrast, I have nothing good to say about the MacWorld logistics and with the exception of the MacWorld keynote, the rest of the contents are on par.

Innovation – Apple is the most innovative large company in existence today. They are the only company that doesn’t shy away from building everything that goes into their products, both hardware and software. Google and Microsoft have stuck with software while Dell has stuck with hardware and even with the focus, none of them have done a great job.

Customer Service – This was a tough one. Microsoft and Google are clear losers in this regard. For me, the race was between Apple and Dell. On the consumer side, Apple wins hands down because Dell has outsourced its support to an incompetent company. On the business side, if you have the right account, Dell win beats Apple, but since Dell only wins IF you happen to be a valued customer, I had to give it to Apple.

Customer Comes First – Microsoft is the only company that puts customers first at all cost. They clearly listen to their customers and they react fast. None of the other companies come even close. Google and Apple are too closed from the outside to put customers first and in Apple’s case, they have clearly shown they don’t mind slapping a few customers here and there. Dell does a decent job as witnessed from the variety of computer lines they offer.

Return Policy – Dell takes the prize on return policies. No hassle, 30 day returns. In contrast, if you take a brand new computer back to an Apple store that you bought earlier that day, they’ll want to charge you a 10% restocking fee. Not cool.

Warranty Policy – Again, Dell’s warranty is significantly better and they actually send you replacement parts to fix your computer. Apple expects customers to send back their machines. Please!

Corporate Transparency – Microsoft is by far the most transparent of the companies with the most employee bloggers and for the most part, they are free to say what they want. Microsoft even has dedicated staff that participate in user forums, help user groups and other communities around their products. None of the others come even remotely close.

Employee Accessibility – Again, Microsoft’s employees are the most accessible. They are the most likely to return an email, escalate an issue or even take your phone call.

Passion – The measure for a company’s passion has to come from the users of their products. Clearly Apple has the most passionate users who often would be willing to part with a limb than with their Apple products.

Environment – This was a tough call. With Google actively promoting green technologies, using solar power for 30% of their electrical needs and subsidizing the purchase of hybrid cars for their employees, I could have easily called it a tie with Apple. However, I decided Apple has a much more difficult job of being environmentally friendly and they have taken a very proactive approach to the issue with their products, designs, packaging and even an environmental activist on their board (Al Gore).

Overall – If I could just own 1 product from any of the above companies, my decision would only be amongst Apple products. Nobody else would even get a consideration. It’s an easy choice to pick Apple as the overall winner amongst tech companies who are doing [most] things right.

So if you’re wondering why I still walk around with a Dell notebook, the answer is I was waiting for MacWorld to make sure I purchase the right product. My MacBook Pro is on its way.

What’s the Developer’s Incentive to Ship?

December 17, 2007 5 comments

Developers Must have an Incentive to Ship in order to Ship Software On TimeThe company always has a substantial incentive to ship. Usually, it’s financial. If you don’t ship the software, you can’t sell it. If it’s an internally used tool or a line of business application, then the company’s incentive to ship is to increase user productivity (again a financial incentive). To the company, shipping the software affects the bottom line and the incentive to ship is clear.

But what’s the incentive to ship for the software developers? Those are the guys that control the real ship date.  In nearly every company I have ever seen, there is virtually no incentive to ship for the developers. In fact, in most companies, developers have an incentive not to ship! Sure, you can argue all you want that if they don’t ship, they risk the chance of losing their jobs as the company might suffer layoffs. Theoretically, improving your company’s financial well-being so you can keep your job should be a big incentive.

But Windows Vista didn’t ship for 5 years, 3 years later than the original plan. How many developers lost their jobs? Zilch. Plenty of companies are financially secure enough to withstand slipping ship dates without resorting to layoffs. Whether the software is for internal use or if it’s the core product that the company sells, developers don’t feel much pain from slipping ship dates. As the ship date continues to slip more and more, the sense of urgency, importance and chaos continually increases, adding some spice to an otherwise boring job. So there could even be hidden incentive not to ship. That’s a flawed system.

If a developer does the identical work the day after the software ships as the day before the software ships, from the developer’s perspective, shipping software is a non-event. After all, what’s the big deal about shipping software if I’m going to continue to do the same thing I was doing yesterday? Some individual team members are independently goal driven to ship. Hopefully, that’s the makeup of your team. But if I had to guess, judging from the norm of slipping ship dates for software projects everywhere, I suspect the vast majority of teams are made up of developers who are not overly anxious to ship software. What can you do?

Building an Environment that Encourages Shipping

Google is famous for the “20% time” it gives its engineers to work on projects they like. The way this works is that engineers are allowed to spend 20% of their time on whatever project they want, not necessarily the one that the company is banking on. Ask any engineer what they think of Google’s 20% time and they’ll say something that resembles “awwweeeesome!” But ask a manager or an executive of any company about Google’s 20% time and they are filled with fear. Fear that something like that would cut their productivity by 20% – how could they possibly afford that? The typical executive might even think Google is leaving productivity room on the table and at some point they could eliminate the 20% time and improve productivity by 25% (going from 80% to 100% is a 25% increase for those of you keeping track).

That’s a short-sighted view. Here’s why:

Most engineers at Google “save up” their 20%-time until the appropriate time in their main projects when they can work on their fun projects. Take a wild guess as to when the appropriate time to work on their 20% fun project is. You guessed it. It’s immediately after their main project ships!

Now imagine you are an engineer who [thinks s/he] has a brilliant idea. Over the past 8 months, you have saved up 30 days of 20%-time to work on your brilliant idea, but the only way you can start working on it is if you ship your main product!

How driven are you going to be to ship your project as soon as possible when you know your fun project won’t start until your main project ships? Are you going to allow scope creep? Are you going to work on that cool new feature you thought of that nobody cares about or are you going to hammer out the features from your todo list? Now you understand why Google’s release cycles and continuous application improvements have been relentless and have far outpaced the industry average.  They have a pool of engineers who are eager to get on with their own projects and the only way to do that is to ship.  Now that’s motivation!

We do something very similar at Axosoft. We never called it 20% time. We just called it a “fun side project.” After major releases of OnTime, we generally brainstorm and come up with a number of side projects that developers want to work on. They can do whatever they want. Software, hardware, web apps, automatic tuna sandwich maker, whatever. Then we spend the next 30 days working on fun projects.

This is the equivalent of taking a vacation, but rather than being stressed by the typical airport security, hotel and other vacation-related nightmares, you actually get to do something you love! For most developers it’s even better than a vacation! Software engineers love to build stuff.  Most of us get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from seeing ideas come to life.  The more exciting the ideas, the more satisfaction we get and nothing is more exciting than our own ideas.

It’s easy to provide a good incentive for developers to ship.  Just don’t think of it as a loss in productivity!

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