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5/17/2013
05:50 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google To Apple: Catch Us If You Can

Despite a low-key Google I/O conference this year, Google has transformed itself into a company of fearsome focus.

Google I/O 2013 has come and gone without major developments affecting the company's two primary platforms, Android and Chrome, but the developer conference nonetheless demonstrated how Google is outpacing its competitors.

Certainly, that's evident in the numbers Google provided, 900 million Android activations to date and 750 million users of Chrome worldwide. But such statistics only sketch the outline of Google's success.

Google began as a search company and seventeen years later, the head of the company's search technology, Amit Singhal opened his portion of the Google I/O keynote by taking about the end of search as we know it. Even if that's more rhetoric than reality -- Google will still be in the search ad business no matter how search changes for the foreseeable future -- it reveals a willingness to take risks that Apple and Microsoft seem to be unwilling or unable to match.

[ Read Google Strengthens Cloud Platform. ]

Singhal described how in his youth he was inspired by the computer on Star Trek, a machine capable of conversing and understanding questions. Google is developing something comparable: mobile VP Johanna Wright demonstrated a future version of Google Search that will support "hotwording," listening for a phrase like "OK Google" and then treating the words that follow as a query.

Someone from Apple should have been making that announcement. The company launched Siri, its voice-driven personal assistant software, in October 2011. Siri was seen as a sign that Apple was ready to challenge Google's search dominance by betting on a future where spoken queries matter more than text queries. But Apple hasn't moved quickly enough and now finds Google pushing the technological envelope and advancing related post-search services like Google Now.

Then Apple's attempt to compete with Google Maps went badly awry. As Apple works to recover from the embarrassing debut of its own Maps app, Google has launched a preview of the next version of Google Maps, and this time it's personal, or rather, personalized.

Part of the problem is that Apple and Microsoft (not to mention Facebook) spend far too much energy keeping Google out instead of deploying services that are better than Google's.

Communities around the country are hungry for high-speed broadband and falling all over themselves to become the next Google Fiber city. Google rightly recognizes how much Americans resent the telephone and cable monopolies, with their high fees, lack of options and poor service. Apple and Microsoft could have launched similar initiatives, if they had more expansive ambitions and were more willing to challenge existing business models. Really, there's something ludicrous about how Microsoft makes billions selling more or less the same word processor, spreadsheet and email client to everyone every two or three years.

Where is Apple Street View? It doesn't exist (yet). Microsoft rightly understood the vast usefulness of Google Street View and launched its own, Microsoft Streetside. But the company found a way to limit adoption by requiring people to download its Silverlight software, now slated for extinction because of poor uptake.

Apple's iCloud also suffers in comparison to Google's cloud offerings, as has been documented in various reports. Microsoft, at least, has shown it can compete in the cloud, even if it's too reliant on Office as a way to rope customers in.

Meanwhile, Google is pushing ahead with its Cloud Platform to compete with Amazon Web Services. The company opened Google Compute Engine to the public, added PHP support to App Engine and introduced Cloud Datastore.

Google gave developers at I/O a Chromebook Pixel, a high-end Chrome OS laptop that should set off alarm bells at Apple: Despite the fact that this is a niche luxury product designed to show developers how the Web can work with a high-resolution touchscreen, it's proof that Apple cannot rely on aesthetic superiority as a means of product differentiation, the way it could when the competition consisted of Windows PC vendors with an affinity for beige plastic.

Google also launched Google Play game services, for Android, iOS and the Web. Apple's focus on its own platforms will hurt it here: Given a choice between integrating the Apple-only Game Center and the cross-platform Google Play services, developers are likely to lean Google if they're not exclusively committed to iOS. Apple looked outward with iTunes by creating a Windows version; it should have launched an Android version of Game Center instead of burying its head in the sand.

Despite the absence of a significant Android update, Microsoft isn't any closer to changing the balance of power in the smartphone market. Apple at least is doing well here, though Android's relentless rise has to be keeping Apple executives awake. Google also beat Apple to the punch by launching its streaming music service, the inelegantly named Google Play Music All Access, before Apple could launch one of its own.

Google CEO Larry Page insisted the competition between major Internet companies isn't a zero sum game, but it seems doubtful that the majority of consumers will be keen to pay monthly subscription fees for multiple streaming music services.

There was a lot of attention paid to Google+ at Google I/O, particularly to improvements made to Google+ Photos. Though Facebook remains the leader in social networking, Google's vision of social computing is no longer laughable, because Google has the power to force participation and because some services, like Hangouts, are really good. Google+ is unavoidable, for better or worse. But Apple and Microsoft have nothing comparable, outside of a few strong stand-alone services like iMessage and Skype.

All told, Google's announcements were modest, but the company's ambitions keep getting bolder. Google's competitors need to wake up to the fact that complaining to regulators and hiding behind technical barriers to entry won't save them. They need to move faster and compete more vigorously.

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Cara Latham
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Cara Latham,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/20/2013 | 2:14:58 PM
re: Google To Apple: Catch Us If You Can
I think I would be pretty tempted to at least try Google Play for $7.99 a month, especially with cross-platform services. I think Google is making important strides here.
nappani560
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nappani560,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/20/2013 | 2:51:36 PM
re: Google To Apple: Catch Us If You Can
Excellent article Thomas, Just right in every aspect.. Google's vision of technology is surely different and more personalised compare to its rivals!!
Rocwurst
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Rocwurst,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/20/2013 | 3:59:47 PM
re: Google To Apple: Catch Us If You Can
Is there something wrong with my earlier post? I'll try posting it again
Rocwurst
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Rocwurst,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/20/2013 | 4:32:46 PM
re: Google To Apple: Catch Us If You Can
Okay, I'll try posting my response in parts and see if Information Week stops deleting my post:

Actually, it is more Apple saying to Google "catch us if you can" in all the metrics that actually matter. You see with 600 million iOS devices around the world now, Apple's iOS continues to obliterate Android in actual usage share, developer revenue, profit share, web browser usage, e-commerce revenue, advertising impressions, advertising revenue, etc etc.

Most Android devices sold are cheap featurephone replacements that get thrown away at the end of contract. Samsung themselves have admitted they have only been selling 10 million Galaxy S3 smartphones every 2 months since launch versus the 37-47 million iPhones Apple sells every three months. The rest of Samsung's smartphone sales are cheap models that are very poor for browsing or apps.

Chrome only managed less than 3% share of the mobile market in April 2013 compared to Mobile Safari at 62% marketshare, towering over the Android browser at 22%.

Then there is the fact that Apple continues to obliterate Android in usage share.
- 67% of mobile video was played by iOS - devices in 2012 (Ooyala)
- 83% of airport wifi connections are iOS devices (Boingo)
- 88% of mobile e-commerce revenue is from iPads (IBM)
- 90% of online retail revenue is generated by iOS devices (Rich Relevance)
- 76% of mobile web browsing is iOS (averaged over Net Applications, ComScore, AT Internet, Statcounter Global Stats (OS), W3Counter, WikiMedia)
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/20/2013 | 6:01:26 PM
re: Google To Apple: Catch Us If You Can
Apple in the present produces more revenue than Google, but investors have an eye on the future. And at least in Wall Street's eyes, Google's future looks brighter the moment than Apple's.

http://www.wolframalpha.com/in...

Apple is very strong in some areas, without a doubt. But it hasn't shown that it has the product pipeline to maintain its present dominance. Nor has it shown that it can thrive in cloud services, where Google is strong. Perhaps it will.
jfutral303
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jfutral303,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/20/2013 | 6:46:28 PM
re: Google To Apple: Catch Us If You Can
The only problem with that approach is up to that weird run up to $700 (which was deserved but for different reasons than most investors seem to have chosen) that has been typical Apple sentiment for almost two decades. That's what Wall Street thought when Apple came out with the iMac and revenues and profit continued to rise. That's what they thought with the iPod, also as revenue and profit continued to rise. That's what they thought when the iPhone first hit the market, even as profit and revenues continued to rise. But it was pretty much a given that after each earnings report share price would drop because people didn't think they could keep the future looking as bright, even as Apple continued to prove them wrong. Luckily the more level headed longs on Apple helped keep it going up on average.

Then the rest of Wall Street got giddy and the share price shot up. Of course, based on fundamentals, it finally caught up with Apple's financials. But now the ne'er-do-wells have had their say, even in the face of continued growth.

This is not to say Google can't do well and by and large has, even in the face of Apple's revenue and revenue growth vs Google's, but there is nothing to indicate that Apple needs to "catch" Google except in someone's fantasy world. Personally I think the whole notion of "Apple needs to catch Google" or "Google needs to catch Apple" is a non-sequitor to their respective accomplishments.

Joe
Steve__S
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Steve__S,
User Rank: Strategist
5/20/2013 | 6:46:53 PM
re: Google To Apple: Catch Us If You Can
There are a number of points in this article that just don't hold water...



Device activations - Yes, I'm sure if Apple were to give away their code and have no control over their ecosystem, they'd win that race as well. Of course, Apple is actually interested in... you know, making a profit. Google doesn't benefit from Android activations directly and even Google claims to make more money per iOS device.



Google Search / rhetoric - Great, so Google gets credit for rhetoric because they're "thinking" about taking risks. Apple, meanwhile, gets no credit for disrupting their most successful iPod mini with an iPod nano product. Or disrupting their entire iPod line with the iPhone product... or disrupting their desktop / laptop hardware business with the launch of their successful tablet business. Sorry, but I fail to see the point you're trying to make here Thomas.



As for Apple maps... I find that the majority of criticism for Apple's maps comes from those who don't even use the product. I'm guessing that applies to the author here as well. Maps aren't easy to make. Apple is criticized for coming out with a product as complicated as global maps that isn't perfect upon introduction. Maps have improved greatly since it was introduced and is an overall great product. I have Google maps installed on my phone as an option, but honestly prefer Apple's maps.



As for iCloud, yes, developers are having problems with the "core data" functionality. That much is true. But, if Apple is so far behind here, where is Google's answer to Core Data? It doesn't exist. Okay, so let's bash Apple for a piece that isn't working right that Apple's competitors haven't even been bold enough to try.



Chromebook Pixel? - Wow, that shows that yet another company can copy Apple's designs. This is supposed to "set off alarm bells" at Apple? Really? How's the Chromebook Pixel selling? ...(crickets)... Copying Apple's products and designs is nothing new for Google and nothing for Apple to get excited about. They're used to it.



Google Play game services - An attempt to copy Apple's established Game Center function, albeit on more platforms. Yes, I see a theme here, Apple creates, Google copies.



Finally, the author complains about Google moving faster and compete more vigorously. Based on what? Because Google telegraphs everything they do? Do you realize that Apple's WWDC is less than a month away? What do you know about iOS 7? Nothing? What do you know about Apple's product plans? Nothing? Yet, you feel comfortable enough to make comparisons and comments that are essentially unsupported. I guess that's what passes for "journalism" these days.
Steve__S
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Steve__S,
User Rank: Strategist
5/20/2013 | 6:50:22 PM
re: Google To Apple: Catch Us If You Can
Rocworst, nice post...

<sarcasm> Don't let the actual usage statistics cloud your view. Clearly, device activations and that rate at which Google can copy Apple are the metrics that count the most. </sarcasm>
Steve__S
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Steve__S,
User Rank: Strategist
5/20/2013 | 6:59:01 PM
re: Google To Apple: Catch Us If You Can
"But it hasn't shown that it has the product pipeline to maintain its present dominance."


Apple has never shown their product pipeline in the past. Yet, it has managed to demonstrate a history of innovation and strong product releases. Despite this established history, you feel it's better to just assume Apple has nothing of interest in the pipeline. Based on what? Can you at least wait until after WWDC in a few weeks before jumping to such conclusions? Did you ever wonder why Apple's developer events are exciting, but Google's event was not so much? Did you ever consider that's because Google has already played their hand and likewise has nothing to show at their event? Honestly, how long have you been following this industry?
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/20/2013 | 7:29:25 PM
re: Google To Apple: Catch Us If You Can
Apple's problems with iCloud and Maps are not mere fantasy. And Siri certainly could be more than it is.
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