Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Google v Apple: A matter of philosophy

These two companies used to be best buddies; one CEO was even on the board of the other firm. But now Google appears to be sniping at Apple almost every day. The reason is simple - after years when they had very different ambitions, the two are now competing on the same ground. With Android, Google has already made a land-grab for leadership in the smartphone business; yesterday it made clear its ambitions to advance on Apple's digital music and video territory. As the battle hots up, the philosophical divisions between the two firms become clearer.

So, Google TV is a somewhat hazy plan to integrate television and the web, which will see Google provide the software and the likes of Sony and Logitech make hardware. What it won't be, insists Google, is a producer or owner of content - merely a platform for others to use.

The Apple TV system, which even Steve Jobs admits has not really taken off, locks users into content from the company's own iTunes store, and doesn't make it easy to roam the web in search of other video content. That may of course be more attractive to TV firms who may worry that Google's offering will simply be a conduit bringing unauthorised copies of their content to the big screen.

In music, Google plans to tackle one of the deficiencies of Android phones: the trickiness of getting easy access to your digital music collection, which is still much easier with an iPhone. It's launching an Android music store in the cloud, with an easy option to sync your music wirelessly to your phone.

Wireless syncing is, of course, not available on the iPhone - indeed Apple blocked an app that made it possible from its store - but there are rumours that the company is soon to launch its own iTunes streaming service in the cloud.

In every area where it's now confronting Apple, Google is determined to paint a picture of itself as the friendly, open giant which just wants to help content owners and users meet each other to the benefit of all. By contrast, it implies that Apple is now becoming a locked-down, closed-minded bully, telling everyone what they can and can't do online. Just look at this video from the Google I/O event, where Vic Gundotra quotes the boss of Android Andy Rubin warning of "a future where one man, one company, one device, one carrier would be our only choice. That's a future we don't want!" Now which man and which device could he be referring to?

Apple's belief is that for most customers, ease of use is the top priority, and they're happy to hand over some control to the company if that's going to make the products easier to use. So far, that strategy seems to be working with sales of the locked-down iPhone and iPad booming. But Google believes it can draw a far bigger crowd with its apparently more open philosophy. Let's see if either proves to be right.


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