Ian Betteridge spoofed my “Google Versus” piece from yesterday, using this oft-cited quote from Steve Jobs speaking at Macworld Expo back in 1997:
“We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose,” Jobs said. “We have to embrace the notion that for Apple to win, Apple has to do a really good job. If others are going to help us, that’s great. Because we need all the help we can get. […] The era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over.”
Betteridge is off the mark on this one. That quote from Jobs was very specific. It came at a time when Apple was not making great products, and when Apple’s fans and perhaps even employees were locked into a mindset that the wrong platform — Windows — had won. That Windows’s almost unimaginable success, its spectacular rise to worldwide ubiquity, was an injustice — one that only Apple could right. He wasn’t claiming that for Apple to succeed no one had to lose, only Microsoft (and, really, Windows in particular — as opposed to then-future initiatives like MP3 players and mobile phones, where for Apple to succeed it certainly helped that Microsoft lost).
Note too that Jobs’s message was bitter medicine. He was surrendering a war that the audience wanted Apple to continue fighting. As Jason Breitkopf noted in a comment on Betteridge’s piece, Jobs was booed, resoundingly,1 by the Macworld audience several times during his announcement. Page’s message at I/O was greeted with applause. Page was telling the I/O audience what they wanted to hear, that Google is something other than a ruthless, greedy competitor.
I’m not arguing that Apple is not also a ruthless and greedy competitor. In fact, my piece yesterday had nothing to do with Apple — only Google. (I should have left Android and the iPhone out of it, as that was the only oblique reference to Apple.) The difference is that Apple hasn’t claimed otherwise. Again, Jobs wasn’t claiming in 1997 that no one had to lose for Apple to win. The drum I’m trying to bang here is not that Google is a greedy competitor, but rather that Google is a greedy competitor that presents itself as anything but — as a sort of peaceful, whimsical, happy-go-lucky techno-futurist corporate utopian — and that rather than see this pose as absurd, many people, Googlers and Google users alike, buy it.
All organizations have aspirations. You’re welcome to roll your eyes at Steve Jobs’s spiel about Apple existing at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, or this from Jony Ive:
“We are really pleased with our revenues but our goal isn’t to make money. It sounds a little flippant, but it’s the truth. Our goal and what makes us excited is to make great products. If we are successful people will like them and if we are operationally competent, we will make money,” he said.
Mere spin? Perhaps. But those statements from Jobs and Ive are not absurd. If they’re not the absolute truth, they’re at least truthy. Whereas Larry Page’s pablum regarding Google not being pitted against other companies is farcical. Tim O’Reilly had a good line about Microsoft a decade ago:
Microsoft gets a lot of heat for not leaving enough on the table for others. My mother, who’s English, and quite a character, once said of Bill Gates, “He sounds like someone who would come to your house for dinner and say, ‘Thank you. I think I’ll have all the mashed potatoes.’”
That’s Google today. What major tech giant has Google not pitted itself against? Whose mashed potatoes do they not seek to take? Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Oracle, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon — Google has made enemies of all of them. The difference between Google’s predatory rapaciousness today and Microsoft’s of yore is that Microsoft wore it on their sleeve, they owned it, celebrated it.
What rankles about Google is their hypocrisy. ★
Larry Page, on stage at I/O today:
Every story I read about Google is “us versus some other company” or some stupid thing, and I just don’t find that very interesting. We should be building great things that don’t exist. Being negative isn’t how we make progress. Most important things are not zero sum, there is a lot of opportunity out there.
Google fans seem to eat this kumbaya stuff up, to really believe it. But Google is the company that built Android after the iPhone, Google Plus after Facebook, and now a subscription music service after Spotify. They entered the RSS reader market, wiped it out, and are now just walking away from it. Gmail? Webmail but better. Think about even web search: Google search wasn’t something new; it was something better. Way, way, way better, but still.
Consider maps. Google Maps entered a market where MapQuest and others had been around for years. That wasn’t something great that didn’t already exist. It was a better version of something that already existed. Google is a hyper-competitive company, and they repeatedly enter markets that already exist and crush competitors. Nothing wrong with that. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work, and Google’s successes are admirable. But there’s nothing stupid about seeing Google being pitted “versus” other companies. They want everything; their ambition is boundless. ★
Facebook didn’t realize just how important widgets, docks, and app folders were to Android users, and that leaving them out of Home was a huge mistake. That’s because some of the Facebookers who built and tested Home normally carry iPhones, I’ve confirmed. Lack of “droidfooding” has left Facebook scrambling to add these features, whose absence have led Home to just 1 million downloads since launching a month ago. […]
The lack of droidfooders didn’t have serious consequences until Home, Facebook’s new “apperating system”. It replaces the lock screen, homescreen, and app launcher of compatible Android phones with a Facebook-centric experience. It offers Cover Feed, a big, beautiful way to browser the news feed the second you bring your phone out of sleep. It’s missing the ability to build real-time information widgets, put your most used apps in a persistently visible dock, or organize your collection of apps into folders.
Constine is jumping to some unsupported conclusions here. Is it possible that Facebook Home has fallen flat on Android because it was designed by iPhone users? That’s certainly possible. But more likely, it seems to me, is that Facebook Home is just a bad idea. As I said last week, it’s a well-designed implementation of an idea no one wants. Would iPhone users want this? I can’t see why. And if the problem is that Facebook Home designers are iPhone users, it might explain why they didn’t see the appeal of widgets, but how would it explain the lack of a persistent app dock or app folders? The iPhone has those. I suspect most iPhone users would miss them if they were able to install Facebook Home.
Facebook Home isn’t an iPhone idea. It’s just a bad idea. Facebook is an app, not a platform. A good home screen interface is one that accommodates any app or service, not just one.
There is a dogfooding lesson here, though. Does Mark Zuckerberg carry an HTC First, or any other Android phone with Facebook Home installed? Does Mike Matas? (Doesn’t look like it, judging by the “via Twitter for iPhone” metadata on his recent tweets.) Why not?
It’s always a sign of trouble when you’ve built something you don’t want to use yourself. Why does everyone I know who works at Apple carry an iPhone? Every single one? Not because they have to. It’s because they want to.
Turn Facebook Home into an interface that Facebook designers and engineers want to use, not merely feel obligated to use, and then they’ll have something. But if it remains something that even Facebook’s own designers and engineers do not prefer over the iPhone (or stock Android, or any other platform), if it remains something that the company needs propaganda posters to promote even among its own employees, then Facebook Home will remain what it is now. A dud. ★