It’s always a danger to look into the crystal ball, everything is so distorted by the glass. But if everything remains as is, it’s hard to look at Google and not foresee the California company winning the future of social media, social technology, and all the bitstreams in between.
The tipping point for me came not when Android recently surpassed iPhone and Nokia to become the most widely-used software on smartphones, and not when Steve Jobs nodded out of Apple. Rather, it was when a friend needed to change up her BlackBerry. Like millions of others, she found herself facing the decision between iPhone and Droid. Even as owner of an iPad and MacBook Pro, she went for the Droid. Why? “I wanted to look at the dark side,” she laughs. “I grew up with Apples, I love Apples, but Google is good, too.
“Besides,” she blurted at the elephant in the room, “what’s going to happen to Apple now that Steve Jobs is gone?”
A company as staunchly genius as Apple, driven by a single visionary, competing with a firm led by not just one but two much younger visionaries, is vulnerable.
While both Apple and Google have been consumer-centric (Apple products created the phrases “user-friendly” and “ergonomic”), one of Google’s many advantages is that it has always created services. Apples have almost always come in a box.
This allows Google to conjure, develop, and launch new ideas that either set the world on fire, or disappear in puffs of smoke. They can be resilient. Apple products require months of testing, prototyping, manufacturing, steeped in reviews.
Today Google has a breadth of cross-category products that have become a part of people’s lives: Google search, YouTube, Google maps, Google Earth, Gmail. And Google’s recent purchase of Motorola must make them feel luckier than ever.
The purchase positions Google for the biggest merger of all: from the television big screen that sucks up nearly 5 hours of viewing each day (versus 10 minutes of video viewing any other way and only 12 minutes on Facebook on average per FB user) to ogling the small screens on computers, tablets and smartphones.
Google is amply positioned as a part of people’s lives. As Jim Lecinski points out in his Google book ZMOT (Lecinski is head of Google’s Chicago office), the average shopper last year used 5.3 sources of information to make a purchase decision. Today in 2011, that same shopper uses 10.4 sources. Double. Half of those shoppers searched online for reviews, blogs, tweeted, comparison-shopped, sought information from the manufacturer or retailer, or “friended” or “liked” a product or company online. Google (in part) empowers that ritual in consumer’s lives.
Google is a part of marketer’s lives, as well. The company’s ability to pinpoint consumer targets is at juicy levels unheard of elsewhere. This will mean buoyant advertiser support downstream, when marketers realize that things aren’t changing–they’ve already changed.
Both Google and Apple are strong brands, with plenty of advocates. And just as you can’t replace someone’s iPod with an ordinary MP3 player, you can’t replace someone’s Google search or YouTube with another search engine, even one that claims to be Comcastic.
But there are differences. While Apple is a closed system, Google is open.
And with a yawning gap between those people who use laptops and those who use handheld digital devices (the former tend to be older, the latter skew younger) Google is definitively poised for the future.
And let’s be honest, despite its exalted brand appeal, Apple’s hubris will be it’s own undoing. Apple service, for example, has never been top-notch. Despite the initial genius of the Genius Bar, waiting to be served is as onerous as standing behind the velvet rope at your local club (the irony is, you’re already a member of the club!). Apple people belong despite legendary poor service, lemon new product launches, and expensive closed systems.
All of which flies in the face of today’s open source, chatty, free-based social media. Free apps are us. Without being evil, Google keeps innovating. They keep turning up cool new stuff that people want.
And what about Facebook? Despite the talent wars they are having with Google in Silicon Valley, unless FB does something dramatic they will go the way of that other thing people used to do…oh yeah, MySpace. (At about the same that Google+ launched, and Droid became the most popular smartphone software, Facebook announced they were making FB “easier for lefthanders”.) Yawn me to death.
As we have watched digital technology emerge from their Jurassic era to living in science fiction, it is hard to imagine what comes next. But it’s coming. With Google’s current share price at $533 versus Apple’s $380, Google can fund whatever scheme they pursue and can keep dialing up newer newness.
Watch out Apple. Goodbye Facebook.
Maybe it’s time to run out and buy a Droid.