Back in January 2010, following Google’s much-hyped Nexus One unveiling, I wrote a post entitled: Apple And Google Just Tag Teamed The U.S. Carriers. In it, I argue that the biggest part of Google’s announcement wasn’t any one device, it was the new model they were putting out there. Google’s ambition to sell devices directly to consumers would build upon the consumer-friendly mobile foundation laid by Apple with the iPhone. Under the new system, consumers would go to a website and click on the phone they want, click on the carrier they want, and boom, they’re done. This was going to change everything. It was going to be beautiful.
Then something happened.
While Apple (some would say stubbornly) clung to their exclusive agreement in order to continue to bend AT&T to their will, Google backed down. When it became clear that the Nexus One was simply not selling, Google seemingly panicked and went running with open arms to the carriers.
Somehow Google’s Android inserts itself into the conversation around cell phone innovation and breaking free of carrier control. Yet I fail to see what Android has really done to help.
When the iPhone came out 4 years ago, the entire industry changed. Here’s what the iPhone brought us for the first time:
- A phone you could purchase directly from Apple at full price with no contract. This model ended up failing as consumers wanted the contract subsidy on the device, but Apple was the first to try to decouple the phone from the carrier.
- No carrier influence in the operating system. My iPhone experience is exactly what Apple wants it to be. AT&T can’t add or remove apps or even put their logo on my phone.
- The phone gets OS upgrades automatically from Apple through iTunes. The iPhone was one of the first with upgrades that user’s actually took, and it all happens independent of AT&T, through iTunes.
- Although you sign a 2 year agreement with AT&T when you get an iPhone, Apple has negotiated so iPhone users can get the new iPhone each year. With cell phone technology moving so quickly (and with so many fanboys like me), I really appreciate this from Apple/AT&T. Two year upgrade cycles are unreasonable.
- (I think) the iPhone is the first phone that is 100% pixel identical on more than one carrier. We’re not talking about “almost the same.” I can choose to get an iPhone on AT&T or Verizon and the phone itself doesn’t change in hardware or software.
With Android, I struggle to see what Google has done to make the cell phone market better, or to reduce the hold carriers have on us. The few things I can come up with are:
- They provided a good OS for free to all handset manufacturers. This is great since most handset makers had crappy software. It means phones have more functionality and more consistency than they had before.
- Android is a great, open developer platform. It lets people build software without a gate keeper (Apple).
Other than that, it seems Android suffers from the same issues other cell phones do. The carriers control the software and experience that ultimate ends up on the device. The carrier controls upgrades for software and hardware. There is a ton of fragmentation in the space. There is confusion for users.
I see how Google tried to change things. They tried to sell the Nexus One direct and tried to bring consistent hardware and software to multiple carriers. But none of this has played out.
At least today, I’m not sure it makes sense to talk about Google in the same breath as Apple with regards to innovation in the mobile industry. Google promises a lot (free WiFi in San Francisco?) but delivers little.
I love my iTunes library. It houses all my music, which is an important part of my life. It also has all the metadata regarding that music: ratings, playlists, lyrics, and more.But iTunes the app sucks. It’s big and bloated. It’s slow. It does too much and tries to be everything to everyone. On my iPad, and I have apps called iPod, iTunes, iBooks, and App Store. But on my Mac, iTunes does all those things. Why!?
Apple should turn iTunes into a platform: a robust set of APIs that can access my iTunes library, purchase history, and more. This would allow other developers to build really cool music related applications, without having to replace my iTunes library (or mess with the XML behind the scenes).
Imagine the apps could build if you could OAuth to an iTunes account and interact with the music and other data it contains:
- You could create better apps for playing music. Maybe a lightweight app that just shuffles. Or an app that specializes in playlists. Or an app for DJing…
- Apps could use the songs in my library, along with play counts and other metadata, to build great recommendation engines.
- In app purchases of songs would be slick. I love Shazaam to find out what’s playing on the radio or at a bar. I wish Shazaam could just buy the song so it’s waiting for me at home in iTunes.
- Ping could be done way better. Imagine an app that simply gets your iTunes login and your Facebook login, and uses the two to create the ultimate music social network.
At the extreme, iTunes (the app) should itself be built on this iTunes platform. It should compete with all the other apps out there that play, recommend, and purchase music.
And at the end of the day, Apple still wins. Every music purchase is still made through iTunes. My iTunes library is still controlled by Apple. I think it’s time for iTunes to grow up (and slim down).
Follow me on Twitter here.
Apple’s new Final Cut Pro X video editing software has been “rebuilt from the ground up” for the Mac OS X “Snow Leopard operating system and is “as revolutionary as the first version of Final Cut Pro was when introduced in 1999,” the company boasted Tuesday at an unveiling of the software suite in Las Vegas.
The latest version of Final Cut Pro is a 64-bit application that will have Apple rivals Adobe and Avid “in a race for second place,” said Peter Steinauer, Apple’s senior video applications engineer and the architect of Final Cut Pro X, according to sources at the NAB Show’s SuperMeet event.
I spent 6 years on Final Cut Pro. I know very few people who have stayed at one company for that long, let alone one product.
Why did I do it? I was working with the best. I loved the product, loved the people, and I was challenged every day with big engineering problems.
But the current team went a step further. They revolutionized video editing once again, 12 years after the first FCP release. They rebuilt the app from the ground up. Few teams get the opportunity to do that.
Congrats to all my friends over at Apple. I use Final Cut Pro more today than I did when I was an employee (other than development time). I can’t wait to use the new version.
Live blog of the release event is here:
Update: Video of the release.
But there’s another major factor at play, which I believe is more important than volume pricing. It’s about design and build quality. Apple’s competitors in the consumer electronics space are, at least for now, all trying to compete at a high level with regard to design. HTC, Motorola, Samsung — their Android products are nicely designed and well-built. One can argue that they’re not as good as Apple’s products, but they’re in the same ballpark.
Whereas with PCs, the mass market PC makers have always been content to build products way below Apple’s standards for design and quality, and consumers were (and largely remain, today) content to buy them.
PCs, especially historically, were compared based on technical specs. An awful lot of PCs have been sold to people who never even looked at the enclosure — only the specs. That’s not how the game is played in consumer electronics. Nobody knows what kind of CPU they have in their phones. (Where by “nobody”, I mean “no regular people”.) Apple doesn’t even publish CPU specs for iOS devices, nor publish how much RAM they contain.
With computers, again, it’s fair to say that the typical Mac costs more than the typical Windows PC. That’s not true for mobile devices, which means Apple gets to compete mostly on factors like design, user experience, and branding. In short, the nascent mobile computing market has much more in common with the traditional consumer electronics market than it does with the PC industry,1 and that works very much in Apple’s favor.
I’ve been a Mac user for 18 years now. And for 18 years I’ve been trying to convince people to buy a Mac over a cheap Dell. “Don’t worry about the specs, a Mac is worth the extra money.” It was a hard sell when a Mac cost double.
But with iPods, iPads and iPhones, things have changed. Apple is still making the best hardware on the planet, and competitors cannot even beat Apple’s prices. Apple is able to sell better hardware at a lower cost than their rivals.
This is partly because Apple gets volume discounts on parts, and has efficient manufacturing. But more importantly, Apple has driven an entire industry to produce better quality products. Motorola, HTC, and others are working harder to try and make phones as good as the iPhone. They aren’t all optimizing for cheap.
Apple has changed the game. It’s no longer about specs and pricing. When buying a computer, don’t worry about the megahertz. When buying a camera, ignore megapixel counts. When buying a car, horsepower does not matter.
The real differentiators are design and user experience.
A great read at Daring Fireball.
What killed us was “one more thing.” We could have easily done three major releases that year if we had drawn a line in the sand, said “finished,” and shipped the darn thing. The problem is that the longer it’s been since your last release the more pressure and anticipation there is, so you’re more likely to try to slip in just one more thing or a fix that will make a feature really shine. For some projects, this literally goes on forever.
I imagine prior to the launch of the iPod, or the iPhone, there were teams saying the same thing: the copy + paste guys are *so close* to being ready and we know Walt Mossberg is going to ding us for this so let’s just not ship to the manufacturers in China for just a few more weeks… The Apple teams were probably embarrassed. But if you’re not embarrassed when you ship your first version you waited too long.
This is a really great essay about waiting too long to ship products and how even Apple doesn’t get every feature into their 1.0 products.
As we work on some major initiatives here at Posterous, it’s important to remember the most important thing is to ship early and iterate based on feedback from all our great users. Every day we brainstorm new ideas and new things we could do to make these features even more awesome, but at that rate they would never actually ship.