With the first ChromeOS products now officially on the way, I thought it would be interesting to compare Apple’s approach to the market to Google’s. If you are expecting a product comparison this isn’t it… more a comparison of each company’s unique approach, and what advantages and disadvantages they will bring. Apple and Google are the extremes, and I think looking at these extremes could be interesting this week of the ChromeOS launch.
Apple: Marketing driven, form over function, vertically integrated
Steve Jobs thinks of himself as an engineer, but actually, he is closer to a designer. Apple products are conceived in the image of what Steve Jobs thinks people will get excited about. His approach to products is actually closer to how a best-selling author might approach a book, or a very popular artist, who likes that popularity, might approach his or her creation.
The advantage to this approach is that products, even at initial launch, tend to be beautiful. They tend to hit their target market more emotionally, and it is easy to see why lines often form to buy them. People have a tendency to hold them up and show off the beauty of the design, and the elegance of the interface. While men in general tend to gravitate to technology products, Apple appeals to women better with this approach.
The disadvantages to this approach are technical limitations and ugly engineering. The first iPhone couldn’t do 3G, the second one had horrid battery life, and the fourth version had issues with the screen and the antenna. In fact, particularly with the iPhone, it often seemed the better it looked, the more issues it tended to have. I’ve spoken to folks who do tear-down analysis of new Apple products, and the common term they use is ugly. This is the downside of form over function: The outside forces compromises on the inside that can create problems.
Finally, Apple is mostly vertically integrated, meaning it designs or owns the intellectual property in much more of its offerings. This gives the company advantages in quality control, but disadvantages in volume. Apple makes higher margins as a result.
Apple has few failures, but they also release very few products. Unless you don’t really need the product to work well, you don’t really want the first version of anything Apple brings out. However, the status of being early is worth the risk to most of Apple’s initial buyers.
Google: Engineering driven, function over form, horizontally focused
Google’s approach is almost the polar opposite. Its designers dream up a ton of functions, then package it in what is often a butt-ugly product, and get it out the door. Google engineers will follow feedback closely, add or eliminate features, and reduce problems version to version, until the product is right. Eric Schmidt is the ex-CTO of Sun, and no one would accuse him of being artistic, but he is an engineer.
The advantage of this approach is that there is little in the way of limitation on new products. Initial offerings will a substantial amount of breadth, and won’t be as limited by initial perceptions of what should be in the product. Products tend to be more robust, and less likely to have performance problems. The inside of the product, compared to Apple’s, is very well-engineered, and hardware problems seem to be less prevalent.
Disadvantages of this approach include ugly duckling products like the first Android phone, relatively bad initial ease of use, and the tendency to bring lots of crap to market in order to understand a market, and develop that one jewel. This approach really appeals to guys, and the geekier the better.
Google is horizontally focused, meaning it generally relies on OEMs to move Google products. This leads to higher volume, but contributes to an image of lower quality. Google makes far less money initially from its products (actually monetizing them after the sale), but in volume, Google is passing Apple.
In the end, Google tends to release more products, but far fewer of them are hits. In total, they can reach higher volumes than Apple does. Folks just won’t be as proud of any of what results. Unless you are really geeky, you don’t want version one of anything Google brings out. For folks who love to both play with technology and have something to say about how it will advance, being first with Google is worth it.
Are you an artist or an engineer?
If you are very driven by appearance, ease of use, premium quality and consistent experience, you’ll like Apple products better. If you are driven by features, like to live on the bleeding edge of technology, and love variety and change, you’ll favor Google. In general, women tend to gravitate more to Apple, and men to Google, even though both companies largely live in segments where men are the primary decision makers. Happy first-generation Apple buyers are heavily driven by image, and happy first-time Android buyers tend to be uber-geeks. The closer to an artist you, are the better you’ll likely prefer Apple’s approach, and the closer to an engineer you are, the more likely you are to prefer Android.
Because Apple tends to attract people who are much more emotional, and react very harshly to negative reviews, people often gloss over the product’s shortcomings. Google attracts folks who often relish in pointing out defects, and attracts negative ink like a magnet. Regular folks should likely avoid first-generation products from any vendor like the plague, and the third generation is typically the magic version where the vendor gets it right, regardless of approach.