From the Editor's Desk: It's complicated
We don’t need a third mobile platform. We need better mobile strategies.
Yesterday, Jerry wrote a fantastic piece about how the world needs a third player in the mobile space, a competitor to Google’s and Apple’s duopoly that has taken hold since Microsoft all but abandoned the mobile hardware space in 2015. I agree with a lot of his points, especially around how these two huge technology companies need to be held in check or risk becoming complacent.
But given Google’s recent foray into hardware and integrating its core web services so tightly with it, I don’t think we’re at risk of these companies becoming lazy and not innovating; what’s more likely is that they get too big and take on too much at once. We can see some of this happening on both sides, with Google’s very public discontinuation of Project Ara and scaling back of Google Fiber, and with Apple’s reported move away from building its own car, opting instead to focus on software.
At the same time, Microsoft was rightfully praised this past week for delivering a truly innovative product, in the Surface Studio desktop, and a cohesive vision of the future that collects all of its disparate businesses — mobile software and apps, Bing, VR, HoloLens, machine learning, Azure, cloud storage — into a neat narrative about empowering creative people to get work done. I bought it, and I’m sure a lot of you did, too: it’s the perfect cap to a comeback story that began with Satya Nadella’s poised and thoughtful position as the company’s leader. And Paint 3D looks pretty damn powerful.
But if you take what Jerry referred to as a “third mobile platform” and position Microsoft as that potential savior, you’re going to be thoroughly disappointed. Microsoft has ceded mobile — as a full-stack builder of hardware and software — in favor of a much more nuanced, and potentially more powerful, position: a horizontal strategy that sees its best features available on Windows 10, yes, but also iOS, Android — hell, even Oculus and SteamVR.
Unlike Apple, and much like Google, Microsoft will likely never make a considerable profit from its hardware, since it is in the business of tunnelling into your connected lives from places you wouldn’t expect: powering Siri’s and Alexa’s web search; taking business away from Amazon’s AWS dominance; beating Google at AI; and, yes, making great hardware that forces Apple loyalists to wake up and say, “There is an alternative.”
We don’t need a third mobile platform — we already have a third, and a fourth, and a fifth. Instead, we need better experiences for consumers through more astute partnerships.
You also can’t forget Amazon and Facebook. They may not make phones (anymore), but their ubiquity on your phones, and in your homes, could be construed as another mobile platform. Facebook alone owns three of my most-used apps, and Alexa has slowly been eating into the time I would spend streaming music to Apple TV or asking Google Now for the day’s top stories.
And then there’s the Android manufacturers like Samsung, Asus, Xiaomi, LeEco and myriad others that build platforms on top of Android already. Some, like Xiaomi and LeEco, have amassed huge followings less for their hardware than their ability to use that hardware as loss leadership for their subscription-based software and services.
So while I think that Jerry makes some great points, he is wrong about one thing: we don’t need a third mobile platform. We already have a third, and a fourth, and a fifth. Instead, we need better experiences for consumers through more astute partnerships. Samsung has already figured this out to some extent, partnering with Microsoft, Facebook and a number of other players to counter Google’s dominance even as it builds on top of Android. It doesn’t mean changing the default search to Bing, or replicating even more Google services on top of Android, but finding ways to add value to people’s lives without tacking on gratuitous features — as is often the case today.
The answer to mobile innovation isn’t obvious to me — some think it’s AR/VR, others AI/bots, others still solving the app monetization problem — but that there is tremendous innovation happening at all levels, be it hardware, software, or in the cloud, is obvious. And I hope that doesn’t change.
A few other things:
- It’s pretty clear that the Pixel and Pixel XL are winners. One person could be an aberration; two, a coincidence. But now that nearly everyone on the AC staff has one in hand and shares the same sentiment, I think it’s fair to crown the Pixel as the best Android phone currently available.
- But that statement sure has been controversial.
- The LG V20 is likely one of the last major carrier releases of the year, and if you’re not enthused by the Pixel it’s a pretty good alternative. It also takes the complete opposite strategy, despite being built on what amounts to the same software. But whereas the Pixel is all about understated (dare I say, underdeveloped) design, the LG V20 constitutes excess in almost every way. Excess is not inherently bad, and LG has reined in its software a little, but if you read my above thoughts and then think about the Pixel at one side of the spectrum and the V20 at the other, things start to make a bit more sense.
- It’s also sad to see how completely LG caved to the carriers with the V20 release. Not only does the AT&T model have 20 pre-installed apps, but Verizon straight-up breaks several features because they came close to duplicating many of the services Big Red bundles with its phones. .
- We discuss this in great detail in our latest podcast.
- It’s a shame about Vine. It’s an even bigger shame about Twitter.
- I’m incredibly excited about Google Home given the early potential of Assistant. The first units should start shipping this week.
- I’m even more excited about Google Wifi, since my home is basically a Wi-Fi nightmare zone that requires mesh.
- I love that we’re doing more on Chrome recently. If you want to see Google’s tablet strategy for 2017, look at what’s happening on Chromebooks right now.
Enjoy the rest of your Sunday and have a very happy, safe and spooky Halloween!