Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Apple Killer?

There's been a lot of buzz over Google's new browser, which marks Google's most recent step to directly piss off Microsoft.  Like Google's earlier attacks--Google Docs/Spreadsheets, aimed at Microsoft Office, a partnership with Yahoo!--this one aims directly at a core Microsoft monopoly with the goal of radically changing how people do things with computers.  We will now all live and work on a virtualized internet Cloud, right next to Google's plan for actually making money from any of this.  

Seriously though; this looks to more like an attack against Apple than Microsoft.  The more Google succeeds in getting people to embrace internet-based apps, and blurring the link between their work and their hardware, doesn't that make people more likely to view their entire hardware/software system as a commodity, much the way Microsoft succeeded in delinking hardware and software in the 80s?  And the result of that move was to turn hardware into a commodity, which people purchase on the basis of price and performance.  Apple nearly died from that change, and is now sustained by price-insensitive hipsters and the iPod.  

So in a world in which you do everything online, and Macs and PCs are completely compatible, why would you ever use a Mac?  They're more "reliable," sure.  Maybe more user-friendly.  But you're paying more and more for that ever diminishing difference, as PC makers get better and you do more things online.  If you end up doing the same thing on a Mac as a PC, with the same probability of crashing, there's no reason to pay more for the Mac.  


Ben Neuman said...
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Ben Neuman said...

I hear that some people choose Mac over PC because they're doing serious things with graphics, video, or audio. As the story has it, I think, Macs have better software available, and they have better software because the OS (and, once upon the time, the processor) have better architecture.

I don't know how true the claim is (it could be an attempt by the artist crowd to rationalize its preference for Macs), but it provides a good reason why Google doesn't matter to Apple. Google can detach things like word processing and browsing from the local workstation because people use them, most of the time, for simple stuff. I don't care about 90% of Word's features, but I do care that Google Docs is free and easily accessible from anywhere.

Intensive multimedia work does require a lot of system resources, and people doing it do need all the complicated and specialized features. Google isn't replacing that anytime soon.

I also don't really see why making computers _more_ compatible with each other will drive users away from the Macintosh. That's still one of the major pains about the Mac -- not all the software you need is compatible with it. You might like the interface a lot better, and wish your system was as well-integrated (a plus to the Mac you seem to overlook), but software can still be a deal-killer, thanks to the vestiges of Microsoft's monopoly. By trying to undermine that old monopoly, Google is helping Mac.

Kyle said...

This post is in response to The Apple Killer on Calculated Exuberance.

So it seems like with the introduction of Chrome, Google’s going for the jugular in the war against that other tech firm that controls your life. By decoupling the web-user's online experience from the OS, pretty soon you'll be able to do just fine with a copy of Chrome strapped onto a barebones Linux OS. Why would you ever want to shell out cash for a bloated Windows system? And why would Macs still even be in the picture?

Well, there is a reason why Macs are still around and doing better than ever. After being thoroughly crushed by Microsoft in the '90s, Apple used a neat trick to bounce back that differentiated its products from competitors, sent profit margins soaring, and virtually inoculated it from future market share erosion: building a brand based on image. Both consumers and Wall Street approved. In a highly competitive, commoditized market, Apple found a way to thrive (or at least survive) by promoting something as intangible and unassailable as coolness/hipsterishness rather than pure performance, price, etc. Of course, that didn't quite top Microsoft's even niftier trick—establishing a monopoly—but it helps explain why destitute college students who fret about their college loans continue to empty their bank accounts (or take out more loans) for outlandishly overpriced MacBook Pros. In the end, Mac-lovers, like religious fundamentalists, base their devotion on something far beyond the realms of reason and basic economics.

Microsoft’s story, on the other hand, is a bit different. In fact, it’s the opposite. Microsoft has to force itself onto users rather than reeling them in with glitz and glamour like Apple. The Microsoft brand is practically a liability, especially the brand of their latest OS, and the company is soberly aware of this as evidenced by their recent Mojave Experiment ad campaign. While users continue to flock to pricey Macs, Microsoft’s iron grip on the world is slowly being pried loose—first by international lawsuits, and then by the introduction of pre-installed Linux PCs. True, specialists may still prefer a powerful OS that can support complex computer-based software, but the vast majority of users just want something simple to get online, check email, and watch that guy dancing on YouTube.

Maybe the time isn’t quite right for Google to flush out Microsoft for good—online apps are still primitive, Microsoft’s monopoly is still very real, and most people still cling to an “If it ain’t broke…” mentality. But it’s nice to see Google make a move and become the change it wishes to see in the tech world (my sincerest apologies to Gandhi). Plus, Google’s not doing too shabby with this whole brand thing either, which is always a nice piece of extra leverage.

In conclusion, Google: buy; Microsoft: sell; Apple: hold.