How Google and Apple's contrasting styles affect IT
Google and Apple have always been a study in contrasts when it comes to their engineering and product development styles, but it was a point that was driven home to me in a big way this month when I tried Google Glass.
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The Google Glass Explorer program is for all intents and purposes a giant focus group that end users pay for the privilege to join. As such, you can't necessarily call it a finished product, but even that says so much about how Google approaches design and product delivery.
Google typically does not deliver finished products. They are engineers iterating and tinkering and their work often lacks the polish we typically are used to with Apple products (Maps notwithstanding). Google throws things out to the public long before most of us would call them ready, but always with the knowledge that it will get better ... because it's Google.
But Google has slowly started to learn from Apple. In the case of Glass, its clever packaging, delivery, and stellar customer service were straight from Apple's playbook.
Apple, on the other hand, would never put out a product like Google Glass and leave it to a group of early adopter super users to help design what the final product will look like. In an interview last year with the London Evening Standard, Apple's Jony Ive had this to say about focus groups: "We don’t do focus groups -- that is the job of the designer. It’s unfair to ask people who don’t have a sense of the opportunities of tomorrow from the context of today to design."
Steve Jobs before him once said about the same subject, "It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
Before the iPad came, I wondered why I would need such a device when I already had an iPhone and it fit in my pocket. But because I lacked the imagination to see it didn't mean it wasn't a great idea --and very soon we saw its impact and continue to feel it to this day.
Over the last decade in particular, Apple has had a feel for consumer desire and they have delivered products people want -- to the point that it has changed expectations of what people look for from software and devices at work.
But Apple has not shown as much capability to iterate that initial idea. If you look at Apple in 2013 they are struggling to adapt to changing markets, particularly demand for lower-cost smartphones and tablets, and its revenue has flattened out.
For companies still struggling to come to grips with consumerization, it's important to understand these two contrasting styles and figure out how they fit into your organization.
While you know that a Google product might not be perfect out of the gate, you know it's going to get better over time. You have to be on your toes to keep up with these changes -- a product you might dismiss as unready or unsafe for the enterprise might look a lot different in six months. Google is also notorious for killing products that aren't performing up to its expectations, or that simply don't fit the company's business model now. This can be tricky if you've built applications or web services that depend on Google's APIs.
With Apple you are very likely to get a product that has great fit and finish from the get-go, but might not change as rapidly. What your users are bringing to work today is probably going to look a lot like what they'll be bringing in a year or two. This kind of stability could make Apple products better suited to the typical IT organization, but also means that any major feature gaps will probably be addressed by partners first, rather than Apple itself.
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It's designed for the 3.5 billion people who have feature phones today. It solves technical problems Google is not interested in and is a better fit for the pre-paid phones popular in developing countries. The only trick is getting developers on board.
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