Matt Yglesias: ‘Google Wants to Reinvent Transportation, Apple Wants to Sell You Fancy Headphones’

Matt Yglesias, writing at Vox:

There were two striking pieces of business news this week from America’s leading technology brands. On the one hand, Google unveiled a prototype of an autonomous car that, if it can be made to work at scale, promises to end mass automobile ownership while drastically reducing car wreck fatalities and auto-related pollution. Meanwhile, Apple bought a company that makes high-end headphones.

Which is to say that Apple’s playing checkers while Google plays chess.

I’m usually a big fan of Yglesias, but this comparison seems like a dud to me. Even if you think Google’s self-driving car announcement is a big deal, and think that Apple’s acquisition of Beats is a bad one, the fact that they hit the news in the same week is mostly coincidence. (It’s possible — I’d even say probable — that Google unveiled their new car prototypes this week to take some wind out of Apple’s sails in the lead-up to the WWDC keynote Monday, and it’s also possible that Apple wanted to get the Beats deal announced before WWDC, which is why I say “mostly” coincidence.) What if Apple’s Beats deal had happened at the same time as Google’s (similarly-priced) acquisition of Nest? Somehow I doubt Yglesias would have written a “Google Wants to Sell You a Fancy Thermostat; Apple Wants to Sell You Fancy Headphones” piece.

Google tends to show its hardware initiatives early (exhibit A: Google Glass). These cars haven’t even hit actual roads yet, let alone hit the early adopter/enthusiast market, let alone the consumer mass market. Apple doesn’t do that. It could be that Apple is completely bankrupt creatively and has nothing truly new in the works. Or, maybe they do. Either way, it would look the same to us on the outside.

Update: Jon Snyder, on Twitter:

Maybe a better headline for Yglesias: Google may get around to reinventing transportation. Apple wants to sell headphones tomorrow.

Right. It’s foolish (but alas, common) to judge Apple based on what it is actually shipping today against what other companies might ship in the future. And in the case of self-driving cars, we’re talking the distant future.

Update 2: I feel like I’m repeating myself.

Saturday, 31 May 2014