I went to a recent Android Forum (by Etisalat) and I was impressed to see hundreds of young people there. It reminded me of nothing more than attending Microsoft forums five years ago. Which got me thinking. Is Android (ie, Google) the new Microsoft?
Business Model – Hardware Independent
Neither Google nor Microsoft were direct pioneers. They both copied a lot from Apple, while changing the business model. Both took Apple innovations and made them hardware-independent.
Apple makes both hardware and software, leaving a huge market gap. The company’s tight control makes for great products, but it also makes for limited supply, high prices, and often dictatorial behavior. Apple simply doesn’t sell their products in many parts of their world, and the products are rarely affordable to the mass.
By contrast, companies that separate hardware from software have been able to drastically drive down prices through competition. However, this also tends to lower the quality of experience. Microsoft Windows enabled other companies to make hardware, driving prices down and supply up. Google’s Android has done the same thing. For this reason both Windows and Android were able to overtake Apple in market share, if not profitability
The Difference Between MS And Google
The difference is that Microsoft is largely reviled among geeks whereas Android is revered. Why? Because Windows cost money and spread through piracy more than anything else, especially in the developing world. Android is (kinda) open source and free, so they haven’t fought the tide on that one. Windows actually did help millions of people, but they were grudging about it. Google has been generous.
Do They Suck?
One place where they may be similar is that both Windows and Android may be subjectively worse than the Apple products they’ve emulated. Windows just sucked, but most Android implementations are needlessly tinkered with by phone hardware companies. Android phones often lack the ease of use and unity of vision of iOS. I wouldn’t say that Android sucks, but I think an iPhone/iPad is still generally sexier than an equivalent Android smartphone or tablet.
Still, I think it’s just striking that Apple creates these markets and then leaves, essentially, a majority share open to hardware-independent vendors. This must be conscious, in their desire to control quality, but without Steve Jobs, I wonder if they can A) keep opening new markets and B) maintain a quality level verging on art. I also wonder if Google can do better than Microsoft in pushing direct innovation rather than simply filling market gaps that others have left open.