“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” – Wayne Gretzky
Here’s hoping that after today's WWDC Keynote, the Google troika of Page, Brin and Schmidt have finally capitulated (at least internally) AWAY from their 'loosely-coupled' mantra and TOWARDS the more craftsman-like goodness of Apple-style integration.
After all, while Android is absolutely ‘killing it’ in terms of 900K daily activations, at what point can we acknowledge that this is a pyrrhic victory, and that Android is a paper tiger?
I mean, who exactly is winning? Consumers? Uh, actually Android consumers tend to utilize the mobile web less than iOS users, and swear that they don’t need apps, which might have something to do with the fact that most Android devices are running the Windows 3.1 equivalent of Android.
Are developers winning? Hardly (see recent Flurry report). They have to support dozens of form-factors, not to mention, a wavy-gravy medley of Android OS variants, and all this for the prize of making less money on Android than on iOS. Is it any wonder that none of us can name a single game-changing app that originated on Android that wasn't specifically built by Google?
But surely, the hardware OEMs are loving it, cuz…Uh, the vibrant ecosystem where a thousand flowers bloom actually killed Motorola, then HTC, and left only Apple-impersonator, Samsung, standing. How is that a win?
Even for Google, I don’t believe that they still see this so blithely as a redux of Windows vs. Mac in terms of monetization, mindshare or momentum. Increasingly, they just look defensive, reactive...and conflicted.
Google, you are better than this. You are! And don’t start pulling out more empty numbers about Google Plus. No one cares. Aggregated is not integrated. Fragmented, me-too, and bolted together is not innovating. It just isn’t.
Okay, that point made, let me tell you why I believe that Apple’s WWDC Keynote today was stunning in its effectiveness, substance, shock and awe.
The “We bring good things to life” Company
Well, is there any question that Apple is the post pc era torch-bearer of bringing good things to life?
I mean these guys have reinvented music, freed the mobile phone from the hegemony of carriers, brought innovation back to the PC, increasingly freed us from the PC, made design matter again, re-thought software, marketplaces and the cloud, embraced accessibility for the handicapped, brought an ethos to building products at scale in an environmental-friendly fashion, and shown a willingness to boldly lead in segment after segment.
A bit off topic, but isn’t the problem in America right now (and much of the world, for that matter) a lack of bold willingness, a lack of vision, an intellectual dishonesty about taking shortcuts and a tolerance for poor execution?
Ya know, we could do worse than emulating Apple.
Keynote Highlights: Steak, Sizzle and WOW!
Let’s get the Steak out of the way, as it provides context for the Sizzle and the WOW.
By steak, I mean those items that show that Apple knows what they are building, who their customer is and what their business is. Specifically:
- iOS Ecosystem: There are now 400M accounts in the app store (365M of which are iOS devices), all backed by credit cards, and a one-touch workflow for buying, installing and enjoying. No less, the model has proven to work grandly across both media (songs, movies, tv shows, books) and apps (30 billion downloads). Further, the platform has yielded 650K apps (225K for iPad), several of which are considered standard-bearers for the power of post-pc, in the process generating over $5B for developers. Oh, and it’s a global success, operating in 120 countries, with 32 more on the way.
- The Un-Fragmented Platform: iOS vs. Android is a study in wince-inducing contrasts. Consider this excerpt from the keynote: "Almost all of our users are running iOS 5. Now if you compare that to the competition, they released a dairy product, 4.0, about the same time as we released iOS 5. Yet, only about 7% of their users are running it."
- The Integrated Platform: iCloud is currently on 125M devices, and with iCloud integration deeply within Macs when Mountain Lion ships next month that means a unified + synchronized flow across Macs, iPads, iPhones and iPod touches in the following services (to name a few): Mail, Browsing, Note Taking, Messages, Reminders, Notifications and even Documents. In restaurant terms, this is the distinction between delivering ingredients, and crafting recipes that are fully conceived with a tightly orchestrated ‘dining’ experience in mind. Even sharing has been thought through across both Macs and iOS devices, so you can take advantage of multiple services, including Twitter and Facebook, without having to jump between apps or through hoops to make these workflows happen.
- Cross-Pollination: To Apple’s credit, they have continually shown a willingness to leverage best practices from Macs and feed them into iOS devices, and more commonly, feed iOS innovations back into the Mac. Case in point, Tabs in Mobile Safari has fed a new Tabview in Safari for Mac. AirPlay Mirroring from iOS is now part of OSX, and Game Center (used by over 130M users) is now part of OSX, opening up cool scenarios like Mac vs. iPad gameplay. Cross-pollination is something that I have blogged about extensively (See Holy Sh-t! Apple's Halo Effect: HERE).
- New MacBooks: The main takeaways here are that Apple pushed down the cost of MacBook Air about $100, and introduced a new MacBook Pro that brings their vaunted Retina display to notebook computers. Hence, unless you are specifically a Windows devotee; or have a business or application-specific reason for not going with a Mac, just know that you are sacrificing R&D, integration with your mobile/tablet devices and of course, well-trained human support for when questions pop up Apple has retail, after all).
Netting it out: the above simply underscores the deft skill by which Apple navigates the PC legacy market (Mac sales will do even better now that they better fit under the iOS Halo), tightens its domination of post PC, and bottom line, delights customers (over 75% of iOS users called themselves very satisfied vs. <50% for Android).
Heck, they even added Chinese specific features in recognition of China's position as the largest ‘green field’ market opportunity on the planet, one where they are, unsurprisingly, already incredibly well-positioned.
Put another way, if I am an Apple shareholder, I am very bullish that the company has kept its eye not only on the ball, but the whole field of play.
So Hot, It Sizzles
Put me in the camp of those who have looked at Siri, Apple’s voice-activated assistant, as a great foundation that is still more gimmicky than game-changer.
Putting aside the fact that Siri is hard to demo in noisy Apple stores, the larger truth is that the system is imprecise; a solution to a problem that may or may not exist.
Recognizing this, Apple focused in iOS 6 on giving Siri more contextually specific tasks that generate richer outcomes for users.
The demo showcased things like Sports related questions, yielding baseball card style media units to questions like, “What was the score of the last Giants game?” Or, “What is Buster Posey's batting average?”
There were similar examples of movie reviews, restaurant recommendations and dinner reservations vis-à-vis partner integrations with Yelp, OpenTable and Rotten Tomatoes (you can ask about directors and their movies, for example).
Further, Apple is working with auto manufacturers to integrate Siri into new cars and trucks via a service they call Eyes Free. Inasmuch as Apple has already built a wedge into such vehicles with the music and phone side of iPhone, the efficacy of burrowing deeper into automobiles via Siri makes a lot of sense.
In fact, seeing how Apple is cultivating Siri, it is not too far of a leap to imagine them creating a paid search product where questions and answers are bid up by vendors that want to be part of the Siri directory.
In this regard, Siri just **feels** like a domain destined to make Google less relevant in the mobile universe. A sidebar is that such a bid placement model would be a retro return to the old model that dominated during the age of the portals and AOL.
Mind you, this is in addition to Siri’s growing support for international languages, including Chinese, integration with Facebook, Twitter, voice-based launching of apps, notifications, and its new Map service (see below).
Speaking of Facebook, while some might see this as more steak than sizzle, I can tell you how wonderful having twitter integrated at the system level is in turning inspiration into tweets.
With Facebook, it has the potential to go deeper since this is really where my true social relationships live. Ironically, this linkage to may photos, music, apps, maps and notifications is the exact opposite of the walled garden experience that Apple naysayers wrongly ding the company for. Plus, all of this is baked into the Mac as well.
Two other iOS feature adds that stood out for me are:
- Smart app banners, a feature in Mobile Safari that makes it easy for Safari users to jump into an app (or download it) directly from the mobile web, further blurring the line between mobile web and mobile native.
- Shared Photo Streams: This is a feature that evolves the current “one silo” approach with Photo Streams into multiple shareable Photo Streams, where a user can choose the photos they want to share and the friends they want to share it with.
WOW! A Map and a Passbook
It works with Siri, it features turn-by-turn navigation, incorporates over 100M business listings (via Yelp integration) and has a nice “info card” style listing interface.
Moreover, the system supports anonymous real-time incident reports, just-in-time re-routing options and even a flyover feature that is derived from rich 3D models of the major cities around the world.
Now, I LOVE Google Maps so while this is a definite WOW, in truth, Maps is all about utility so the real story on this one won’t be clear until we see what we’ve lost for all of these bells and whistles.
While Apple presented it as a consolidated place to organize things like gift cards, flight itineraries, movie tickets and the like, I believe that Passbook is the true beginning of Apple’s foray into being the defacto eWallet.
Think of it this way, Passbook will materialize just in time for the holiday season, a time when loads of (historically) boring gift cards are handed out.
Via Passbook, these cards and tickets become something cool, dynamic and even geo aware (Starbucks is nearby, you have $18.25 on your eCard).
Plus, these cards are alive, so if your gate changes at the airport, your boarding pass will be updated and you will be notified.
Given that type of service-aware handle, how far of a leap is it for vendors to be able to present cardholders a flash sale or other special offer based on time of day or locality?
My point is that Apple can segment their approach here to be to be anything from the organizer (think: iBooks, Newstand) to the facilitator (i.e., the platform building blocks) to the curator to the market maker.
"Only Apple could make such amazing hardware, software, and services…They are perfect examples of what Apple does best. Ultimately, it's why people come to work at Apple, and with Apple. To create products that empower people. To make a difference. The products we make, combined with the apps that you create, can fundamentally change the world."
Not only does Apple have the skill and the footing, but equally, they have the will; and that leaves them incredibly well positioned.
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