The problem is that the competition is getting organized. Consider Android: it may not be as consistent in its presentation and execution across product lines -- a major complaint I have with it myself -- but its growing in popularity, and maturing in ways that could convince iPhone owners they overpaid for a mere brand name. And while its application offerings are messier -- recent talk of malware and GPL violations all come to mind -- theyre also that much more open-ended, and that much less hidebound by what seem to amount to decisions of taste.
Its not a question of Apple immediately losing tons of market share to Droid, but also a question of the public image they project about their future directions. If their response to such competition is to just produce another iteration of the same hardware, and to not explore the possibility theyve locked things down too heavily, theyre going to seem less like innovators in any respect.
The Googles: They Do Everything
Are there any pies left that Google doesnt have a finger in? Search -- and not just web search, but everything search -- geolocation services, outsourced office IT, digital publication, smartphone technology, web browsers, thin-client tablets
A decade ago, when Google was little more than the bright young face of Search 2.0, nobody would have associated any of these territories with Google. Even Google itself, I suspect, wouldnt have believed it.
But as Google became the default search engine for most everyone who had an Internet connection, a funny thing happened. Google came to see itself as a gatekeeper for all that could possibly be searched, sorted, indexed, pictured, described or catalogued. Not just stuff on the web, but everything everywhere. This only became all the easier as our real and online lives started compulsively merging.
The main problem with being steward to so much information at once is that it may be too much for any one entity to handle, both logistically and morally.
For one, it leaves you with very few future directions to move in. It becomes that much harder to truly innovate when you already have so much under your thumb. Googles compulsion to expand its reach manifests in the form of dozens of projects, many of which came to dead ends: Google Video (eclipsed by YouTube); Google Print Ads (an attempt to help out the newspaper industry, many agents of which blamed its decline on the likes of Google); Google Answers (their stab at replacing Wikipedia with professionally-vetted content, which lost out to Wikipedia and Yahoo!); Jaiku (the Twitter-alike service, now being run by a volunteer team); and so on.
The nadir of Googles fetish for public experimentation was Google Wave, a sophisticated solution that matched no actual problem. People talked excitedly about how it might do everything from kill off e-mail to replace message boards. In the end, the only thing it killed was itself, with some of its features -- like real-time collaboration -- being folded into Google Docs.
I do give Google a lot of credit for experimenting freely, and being willing to let the public share in the conducting of some of those experiments. Some of these experiments were abortive for a good reason: future development on Google Gears, for instance, has been deprecated in favor of similar technologies found in the HTML 5 draft. Not everything a company does can be successful.
But too much of such visible thrashing around breeds a feeling that Googles growing rudderless and confused --throwing their efforts into too many things that amount to also-ran versions of existing products and not innovating in substantive ways.
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