“If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you'd have invented Facebook.” – Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network
Early in Apple’s WWDC Keynote, it began. Proving that fanboi-ism is not a uniquely Apple dynamic, the Android acolytes erupted on Twitter:
“Watched a little #WWDC on a break. Excited for iOS users to have some of the things we've had on Android for years,” chimed in one. “iOS 7 looks like Jelly Bean,” snarked another. “Feel like iOS 7 has taken many many design queues from what Google's apps have been doing over the past year," griped yet another.
Because we seem incapable of parsing nuance; and because paradoxical truths are apparently more blinding to the human eye than the sun itself, the Post-PC wars have always been presented as a zero-sum, winner-take-all narrative.
I mean, come on, remember Windows versus Mac?
It ALWAYS ends with one dominant winner, and a bunch of losers.
That is, unless of course, you have paid attention to the web, where Google’s stranglehold on search and ads has not bothered Amazon one bit; where Facebook remains uniquely different from Apple, Amazon and Google; where Twitter and LinkedIn just seem to be hitting stride.
Meanwhile, in smartphones and tablets, is Google’s Android really killing anyone, other than its own hardware partners?
And who's winning in the Android camp anyway, save for Samsung and ‘forkers,’ like Amazon?
Having now sat through both the Google IO and Apple WWDC Keynotes in the past few weeks, I am left with a sense. While we can argue about what winning **looks** like, in the battle for Post-PC dominance, the two bellwethers – Apple and Google – are rightfully judged as much by what they have in common as by where they diverge.
With that in mind, these three items stood out for me in today’s keynote:
- Composition and Unity: Apple’s strength has always been about the power of making a choice, and how that instructs a myriad of other decisions, from design and workflow, to delight, and critically, what you don’t do. Heretofore there was a sense that within the body Apple, was a company fighting a low-simmering battle between its various selves across hardware, software and service layers. With Jony Ive taking charge of all design following the unceremonious putsch of Scott Forstall, that feels like its changed for the better. Beyond the not-so-subtle digs at Forstall's skeumorphic design sensibilities, the unveiling of iOS 7 is reflective of a company operating with a sense of their being one composite whole, trending towards system-wide symmetry and lightness. Sure, the obvious takeaways are on the flatness of the icons and how much simpler much of the user interface appears. But, design is less about how something looks, and far more about what it does. I expect that in the days and weeks ahead, the consensus will be that iOS 7 powered devices remain the most beloved, most deeply engaging and most perpetually used devices out there. In other words, while Android can legitimately tout market share numbers, Apple will continue to be able to tout their share of heart, mind, pocketbook and profits. The videos that Apple created around their vision of the experience of a product, how it makes users feel; the delight it inures; and why that instructs the company to embrace very few ideas, is great brand advertising. I hope to see the company attack this idea just as fervently as Google wraps itself in geekiness, choice and fearlessness -- both companies SHOULD play to their core strengths.
- Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: Google boldly, and ridiculously, once proclaimed that open always wins, sidestepping the gray truth that even within Google, sometimes closed is the rule of the land. They railed against forcing users to choose, born of a fervent sense that breadth and diversity is better. That is, until it came time to anoint the Nexus device class; or create Glass, for that matter. Similarly, Apple has mocked and litigated against the Android ‘imitators,’ but there is legitimate truth that in iOS 7, Android’s influences can be seen far and wide. I reference this point to underscore the fact that both Apple and Google are winning in their own way, but not in completely different ways. Google can credibly tout the importance of 900 million Android devices, but how much better is that than the 600 million iOS devices, especially knowing that the iOS base is qualitatively and quantitatively ranked number one in areas like raw usage, web usage, mobile-based commerce, loyalty and overall satisfaction? Similarly, what is the power of a platform when only 33% of the devices are using the latest version (in the case of Android Jelly Bean) vs. 93% for Apple (in the case of iOS 6)? As a developer, I can tell you that dealing with a bunch of form-factors fragmented across a number of OS variants is the proverbial death by a thousand cuts. And don’t even get me started on the goodness of knowing that the vast majority of Apple’s 575 million iTunes account holders are backed by a credit card and one-click purchasing. In the case of Android? Not so much. It’s one reason that Apple has paid $10 billion to developers -- $5 billion in the past year alone – a full 3X the amount of all of the other platforms combined. Then again, Google is not only betting on Android. They have a dominant play on the web, and an equally strong footing on iOS.
- Embrace, Integrate and Improve: The best line of the keynote was when Phil Schiller, in announcing the new Mac Pro quipped, “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass.” Indeed, Apple showed real innovative fervor in the new Mac OSX Mavericks, which was bolstered by both a new Mac Book Pro (super cool - targeted at designer and developers) and a revamped MacBook Air. But, of course, the main entree was a complete re-design of iOS -- the largest re-think of iOS since iPhone. In so many ways, big and small, iOS changes the way that an iOS device works and the way it looks, while managing the balancing act of not breaking familiarity for users. I was struck repeatedly with a sense of coherence and consistency of structure and flow. One simple example is the new Maps app in Mac OS X where in a click, you can push a map to your iOS device. This is a very holistic way of thinking about synchronized flows from desktop to mobile. Similarly, Apple’s new iTunes Radio service, is positioned first and foremost as a music discovery tool. Towards that end, it generates 'breadcrumbs' to full histories and song buying. It factors logical tie-ins with iTunes Match (the service is ad-free for iTunes Match customers; ad-supported for everyone else; and yes, Pandora just crapped themselves). An initiative called iOS in the Car extends the goodness of hands free integration of phone and music to messaging and directions. In the process, it usurps one of the primary use cases for Google’s Glass. A complete rethink of the camera embraces the goodness of Instagram while autonomously adding intelligent contexts. Plus, the ability to shift in natural touch flow from video to standard camera, square shot and pan view screams delight. Think of this as the "more than the sum of the parts" release.
Conclusion: This was the first post-Steve Jobs Apple event that felt unapologetically like the new, new Apple. One can imagine that somewhere out there, Steve is smiling proudly, knowing in his heart of hearts that his baby just got its groove back.
UPDATE 1: Daring Fireball's John Gruber has some excellent thoughts on iOS 7. Well worth a read.
UPDATE 2: Craig Hockenberry (Twitterrific) has written a perspective piece that is terrific, no pun intended.
- 6 Takeaways from the Google IO Keynote
- You say you want a revolution? It's called post-PC computing
- Apple's segmentation strategy, and the folly of conventional wisdom
- Google Glass will soon be invisible – and the new normal