The other day I was reading a great post by Tim O’Reilly entitled The State of the Internet Operating System. It’s a long article if you are used to the average blog post (not very different from what this one will be!), but it’s worth reading all of it.
Now, if you are done reading it, I wonder if you agree with him or not. When I started reading and probably up to one third, I was not understanding where he was going to end up, but then I had a A-HA moment and all of sudden I realised what he means and I completely agree. It is something that has been in my mind for a while, but I was never able to put it down in words as well as Tim O’Reilly did. One of the reasons recently I’ve been paying particular attention to where I sign in, which cookies are in browser and where I go is that I can see where Google are going and how they are expanding their APIs and how developers are using them more and more. Google are amazing at how they are identifying growing trends, developing new technologies or acquiring companies and integrating their existing products. Add to this their release speed and you have an amazing juggernaut heading to the conquest of the Internet Operating System. They are obviously dominating the Web and you don’t need me to tell you that they are doing very well with APIs. Come in mobile devices and more in general mobile computing. Google have not left any base uncovered and they have the already successful Android and the upcoming Chrome OS. Then at the latest Google I/O the Google TV is announced in partnership with Sony, a company that has always tried to develop its own technologies and keep them as closed as possible. If they have given up to Google it means Google is giving them something that is worth a lot.
I read Tim O’Reilly’s post a little later from the original publication and just the day before the Google I/O. Since the initial read of the article the little gears in my brain have been running like mad thinking about the Internet OS and Google TV only added more steam to the engine.
Today I was catching up on Fabrio Capobianco’s blog and found The Google Chrome OS and Android conundrum. Of course he’s on the topic as well.
Android has been very successful, I am not sure if Google expected it to be picked up so well and definitely HTC have done an amazing job. Yet, from a mobile device perspective, many still think it’s not as good as the iPhone. Of course, it’s a hard comparison as the iPhone is really a combination of MANY parts that go from the OS to the hardware to the iTunes store for apps and music.
Google are probably not there yet, they probably don’t have all the tiles in the right place, but they are improving and they have a train that is running fast with releases that come quickly and keep adding new features that put pressure on Apple. The hardware is not exactly Google’s responsibility, but there are so many devices coming from HTC, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, etc that at some point a winner MUST come, it’s just a matter of numbers.
It is still unclear if Chrome OS will be a success or not and vendors have obviously decided to invest in Android for now as it’s a more mature platform. Chrome OS is an easy bet for Google and it plugs perfectly into their existing business model helping us, the users, to get more connected and more on the Web. As they did with Android, they are giving away something for free, in order to speed up the adoption of their existing services. It’s an investment to make sure that the extra money they can make tomorrow actually comes sooner (and they are in control).
Apple and the iPhone
As Tim O’Reilly points out in the second part of his article, it looks like Apple is not getting this thing of the Internet OS. I would add something, either they don’t get it, or more likely they think they are a consumer products company and all they want is build products. They develop or acquire technologies that will make their products better, but only key technologies and they either buy or partner with other companies for things that are less crucial. Think of Exchange, they finally (and rightly so) gave up on developing internally and just licenced it from Microsoft, they get better support and customers are happier. Other things that are more important like Maps, they acquire a company and you can expect the new iPhone OS to have them integrated in some way.
In my view, if Apple decide that they are happy to be a consumer products company, they will let Google go their way, compete where they have to, but not invest in other fields. They will not win the battle for the mobile world and I don’t think there will be a dominant player like Microsoft anyway and they will still be happy with their 5-10% of market share of wealthy customers. It’s not a bad market, Italian fashion’s fame is built around a few expensive brands and yet makes Italy famous in the world even if very few people will buy an Armani suit in their entire life.
Google wins anyway
Fabrizio Capobianco, in his post, says that Google would like Chrome OS to win, but Android is going too well and so they have to keep it going and improving and pretend they are happy about it. However these are only ways to accelerate something that is already happening, i.e. Google becoming the heart of Internet services or at the very least a major part of them. Either way, they are making sure they are a vital part of our lives for the next 10 years or more.
The future of computers
The end of my post would have been the previous paragraph, yet, I would like to add some thoughts on why I think Android will win the race against Chrome OS.
Chrome OS is just a limited GUI with the browser and easy access to the Web. It is a way to help us understand that on the Web we can do everything we need.
On the other hand some are saying that the iPhone has proven that a new interface that comes from a completely different angle can be a winning UI compared to the old Windows PCs. Many pointed out that the iPad is a big iPhone and in a way it is and if you have used it, you will know that it’s very good to use, you can hold it easily, you can read well and it lives very well on your coffee table. This is a new way of using a computer at home and it is perfectly in line with the original plan of Apple 30 years ago of bringing a computer in our homes and let us enjoy personal life using it. It’s easier and more intuitive than a PC and it does almost everything that we need.
Android has the same approach. Google TV proves that it is climbing up the chain of home services.