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Why the Chromebook Pixel and the Nexus 7 have Apple scared

By Rodney - March 3, 2013 6

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Pixel and Nexus Devices

If you jump back a few years, to the days when Apple and Google were starting to wrong foot each other more publicly, it was pretty safe to assume the public perception – and the tech one as well – was that Google was a search and email giant with a few (dozen) web apps, which were of varying quality; while Apple was the (perhaps overpriced) purveyors of higher quality, well designed fashionable hardware.

These stereotypes aren’t fair on either side of the fence, of course – Google had a lot more going for it than search back then (and of course now, too) and Apple had set up one of the most popular digital services of all time (iTunes). None the less, there was a clear distinction in people’s minds between what the two companies offered, even if it wasn’t entirely accurate.

In the last couple of years, however, both Google and Apple have been starting to quite noticeably take on each other’s publicly perceived “core business” (okay, Apple isn’t getting into advertising and direct web search but you know what I mean).

Google began to use the Nexus range of phones (and then tablets) as more than just a standard bearer for vanilla Android – they began to sell them direct to the public from the Play Store. In fact, while we’re on the topic, the Play Store itself has more than begun to compete with iTunes on every front (TV, magazines, movies, books, etc) – with varying degrees of success (in some case very effectively).

At the same time, Apple very loudly ousted Google Maps from the iPhone and tried to work around Google Search with Siri; with very little success indeed. They’ve continued to try to build iCloud as an alternative service to many Google offerings (or any other popular competitors, such as DropBox) and they are continuing to work with their own email accounts, as well.

However the key takeaway from this corporate battle isn’t that Apple and Google are trying to eat each other’s lunch – that’s a given – it’s that fairly consistently, when you look across the product spectrum of both companies, Google is getting better at Apple’s core business much faster than Apple is getting better at Google’s core business. And it’s not just me saying – when John Gruber of Daring Fireball (who is effectively a thinly-veiled-but-not-directly-paid PR arm of Cupertino) admits Google is beating Apple at something, you know it’s reached the point where it can no longer be denied.

We can see evidence of this most recently in the very popular Nexus 4, 7 and 10 range of devices – and now the Google Chromebook. What reviews are consistently saying about these devices is that the design and build quality of them is equal to Apple’s – that Google is taking such care with the quality of the hardware that even the (somewhat mythical but somewhat true) build quality of Apple is no longer a distinguishing factor between the two. Many Apple fanbois are even admitting that the latest push through ICS and Jellybean brings Android into similar software design polish with iOS (something we here at Android Analyse would argue Android long surpassed iOS in, anyway).

In fact the beauty of what Google is doing with the Chromebook Pixel is that (as long as your pockets are deep enough and I am sure Google’s are), it doesn’t even need to be a commercial success. It’s a shot across Apple’s bows showing the World that Google is capable of making and bringing beautiful hardware and software together; just like Apple can – and a reminder that Apple can’t do what Google can do. It’s a step towards changing public perception of Google to a point where eventually, they become a go-to company for consumer devices.

However with all the talk about “Google getting better at what Apple does faster than Apple getting better at what Google does” (and there’s a lot – go Google it (or Siri it if you will)), I am yet to see people talking about why this is, in real terms – and I’d like to put forward my theory about why it’s happening so fast.

Because – and forgive me for saying this if you’re a designer – design is a lot easier to do than building a reliable, highly interconnected, powerful and scalable web service from the ground up. Now don’t get me wrong – I am not saying good programming or good engineering is harder than good design (although I’ll admit the Engineer in me badly wants to say this) – I am saying that good design or good programming of web services is meaningless without the back-end data to back it up. There’s absolutely no doubt good design is hard work and a real talent and skill – but it’s still fundamentally the work of either a small team or one guy (Johnny Ives at Apple for example) and it’s still fundamentally related to a single project or moment in time. Design teams don’t require a decades worth of ground work to be laid before they begin (yes, they can build on existing look and feel but it’s not the same thing).

This is the fundamental weakness of Apple’s, which Google is now starting to exploit – and hard. Getting great design is about getting one or two really good designers into the organisation and really, truly giving them free reign. You can’t simply stick an ad in the paper for a couple of guys and build your own mapping solution, as Apple found out to their own peril, last year. That kind of system requires a huge team of very, very intelligent people but even more than that – it requires an enormous back catalogue of really well stored and indexed data – you simply can’t pop out and aqui-hire your way to competing with Google’s database collection – but you can aqui-hire yourself some really top shelf designers.

A great example is Siri. Apple didn’t make Siri – they bought out a small company who was selling it on the iTunes App Store. Then they injected some pro-Apple advertising into the results and told everyone what a game changer it was. It disappointed, badly and was largely rubbished by reviews. Amazingly shortly afterwards, Google came out with their own in-house version: Google Now – to almost universally positive reviews. Why? Not because Siri was less pretty than Google Now (although in my opinion, it is) but because Google Now gives meaningful results to your queries and knows a hell of  lot more about your day to day activities  than Siri does. Google Now is actually useful and widely used; while Siri remains a gimmick that virtually no one actually uses.

The reason Google was able to get one up on Apple so quickly isn’t because they had better programmers on the Google Now team than the people who made Siri – it’s because Google Now has access to information about both its user and the World at large that Apple could only dream about and can’t be collected in a short time.

This is why the positive reviews for the design and build quality of the Chromebook Pixel have Apple (and their pseudo marketeers) so worried. As the public perception of Google shifts from being a techy company who make cheap plastic stuff with smart software, to being a company who makes first class products, Apple really has nothing left to distinguish itself upon – and they know that in the web services race, no one can catch up to Google, anytime soon.

Rodney

Rodney's comes from a background of enterprise systems integration and now runs a cloud computing company. He has a love of all things Android and open and loves it when technology makes us amazed or excited. Rodney uses a Nokia 930 (Windows Phone) and a Samsung Galaxy 10.1.

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6 Responses to “Why the Chromebook Pixel and the Nexus 7 have Apple scared”

  1. Igaal says:

    Great article Rodney! not to mention what Steve Wozniak said about Apple being behind Android…

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  2. kartman says:

    When even Microsoft are doing more exciting stuff than Apple you have to wonder were Apple is headed.

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  3. Wow says:

    The Chromebook Pixel is such a rip-off, Apple and Microsoft should be laughing their ass off. Not a good laptop, have yet to see one review say “Must buy! The laptop we have been waiting for!”

    The only people who would like it are people who A. don’t do real work or B. Google-fanboys.

    Any sensible person would get a real laptop like a Macbook or even the Surface pro, where you won’t have to scavenge for apps on the “Web-store”

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    • Mike O says:

      Yeah it’s definitely not priced to sell.

      I’ve been living in Google’s cloud for as long as it’s existed, all my email, documents, files, photos, videos, everything. I don’t know if that makes me a Google fanboi but I love the service they provide.

      However, I do ‘real work’ in the cloud too. I’m incredibly productive in fact. I can do all the usual office tasks, write code, whatever. But the only thing I will concede is there are no real Adobe Suite competitors for the browser and that is a significant part of what I do for a living as a web designer and developer.

      If I had the spare cash to burn I’d be all over the Pixel because it wouldn’t limit me in any way, except as mentioned for the lack of Adobe Suite. But then, as I’d only be using the Pixel ‘on the road’ I wouldn’t be Photoshopping anyway.

      All that said, you are not paying for the Chrome OS, you are just paying for some really nice hardware with a touch-screen and you can install something else if you prefer. Ubuntu will go straight on there if you want (http://goo.gl/xi9iL) and that’ something I’d consider to go beyond just being a cloud device.

      Now I just need to somehow justify this to the CFO (Wife). I’ll gladly entertain any ideas on that front :-P

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    • Bigears says:

      “The only people who would like it are people who A. don’t do real work or B. Google-fanboys.”

      Most people who work require nothing more than email, a browser, and Microsoft Office. Google has developed an online form of office that more than covers the functions most people use (read MOST not ALL) and gmail again covers most peoples use. ChromeOS is literally everything that most people need in that setting. I would never purchase the pixel purely on a “I cannot possibly afford it” basis, but one of the cheaper chromebooks I would consider if I needed an on the road device for internet and web processing only.

      I agree with you its crap for its pricing, but as a product its not a bad idea. The world doesn’t need another full system OS, it needs something cheap and designed for what they use it for

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