Should Apple Be More Googlish?
As I have written before, the Apple empire rests on very few products: the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Period. The App Store, which some might want to include, wouldn't exist without the iPhone, so I put it in the category of derivative, or support. Likewise iTunes belongs under the iPod umbrella (well, OK, it's a support vehicle for all four, now, but without that hardware, Apple would never have gone into this business.) What else would you count? Software revenues? Book revenues? Sales of Bluetooth keyboards?
Now I have my complaints about Google: how they are undisciplined, go off on these crazy projects that are unlikely to result in anything, but I do admire the willingness to get outside their comfort zone - even if it results in some mess. As Jobs counseled Larry Page "You're in danger of becoming Microsoft."
What he meant, of course, is that Google needed to reign in the many and varied (and often useless) projects that individual engineers had started and focus on fewer, but more likely to succeed efforts - and Page did exactly that, discontinuing many within a few months. But Google still values outside-the-box thinking, and has come up with lots of disparate - but potentially world beating products along the way. Android, for one. Streetview. G-mail. Google Maps. Docs. Chrome. YouTube.
The criticism of Microsoft was apt, but for a different reason. Microsoft isn't original, it's all derivative. At least Google pushes out in new, untested directions. As for Microsoft: Game? Already done. Browser? Not first. WYSIWYG? Nope. Tablet? Phone? Not there, either. Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Stores, Search, Portal, Mouse, the list is near endless.
I look at the Nest home thermostat and I wonder: "Why didn't Apple do that?" (Yes, in a manner of speaking they did, since it's an ex-Apple guy doing it.) No, it wouldn't have been a huge business for them, but it could actually change the world by reducing energy consumption and getting people past the "VCR blinking 12:00" syndrome of learning how to program an adjustable setback thermostat. It's elegant, it "just works", and it ain't cheap.
Sony started life making little transistor radios, and went on to invest in and invent in televisions, Walkmen, VCR's, CD players, camcorders, Blue-ray players, Playstations, and more. Not all of them took over the market, but they had a terrific 50 year run in consumer (and some pro) technologies, and I find it hard to believe they would have done better by "focusing" on just transistor radios and TV sets.
You can go too far one way and lose focus, or not far enough and find yourself limited to one or two breakthrough products (like Polaroid, say, or Palm's PDAs). It can't be that Apple doesn't have the resources to stretch its wings, so it must be cultural: wait for direction from Steve, then execute. Unfortunately that model isn't likely to work any more, and I'd like to see them embrace creativity and move into some other markets - even if they don't have all the potential of "smartphones" or "tablets". We're all waiting breathlessly for Apple TV, and the big breakthrough never comes. Maybe there are other things Apple is uniquely poised to do. Maybe they should open up and let the creatives out.