Apple’s Watershed Year

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Nexus 4 switchers and the decay — nay, demise! — of Apple’s ecosystem.

I think the Nexus 4 is a fine phone and I think Android 4.2 Jelly Bean has come a long way. But I also think the central arguments of these posts are flawed. Let’s take a look.

Apple doesn’t expose hooks.

One argument is that Apple hinders its development environment by not exposing hooks to, say, Siri. I think there could be some exciting things that happen were Apple to expose a Siri API, but I also think the fact that Apple hasn’t does not point to some inherit problem with secrecy. Maybe Siri just isn’t ready. I would argue Apple rushed Siri out too quickly, as they did Maps, and I cannot imagine compounding that with the release of an API to a freaking artificial intelligence system.

Apple doesn’t let me play with the file system.

This one blew my mind. From Ralf Rottman’s blog:

On Android, it’s really simple. I can detach the file to a local folder and further work with it from there.

Holy shit. Is that what you miss, managing files? This is a fundamental difference between Apple and Google. Google scrapped together an open source project, rather than inventing it themselves, as they so often do.

There’s no doubt iOS needs a way to set default applications or, as Ralf points out in fairness, a way to say “open with.” It’s just that in the Apple ecosystem, I know Apple will do it right, even if they don’t do it first. Apple is solving tough problems because they started from scratch.

Apple locks me in. I can’t use Google Now on my iPhone.

It’s funny that someone argued openness and used Now as an example. After all, for Google Now to work well, you have to be deep in the Google ecosystem. Like search? Use Google’s. Need e-mail? Use Gmail.

Anyway, even with the proper access, there are no guarantees Google would be quick to build Now for iOS. Why would they remove their only way of neutralizing Siri on Android?

How about those movies I bought on my Nexus 7, before it was replaced by an iPad mini? I suppose I can easily download them to my Mac and watch them, right? No, of course I can’t.

Apple uses splashy events to debut new products.

The argument is made that Apple has a “big bang” marketing strategy, and that this keeps customers in the dark. Somehow Google’s once-a-year IO conference doesn’t count, but never mind. If it seems like Google has had more iterations, it’s because they were playing catch-up and patching holes. It’s very clear that Google’s rate of innovation on Android is beginning to slow down — and it should. Since when do we expect major operating system updates so frequently?

But what does it matter anyway, if most Android phones can never run the latest version of the OS? Google says it’s gotten better. It hasn’t.

What Apple does get wrong

Apple isn’t too secretive. How often do companies in highly competitive industries share their product roadmaps with customers?

Apple’s isn’t too hip. A company like Samsung, with their snarky commercial depicting Apple customers waiting in line, would take those customers and that highly profitable retail store in a heartbeat.

Apple isn’t too religious. While things were different in the early 90s when the Mac was down and out, I never beat my chest to Android users. I always say, “Oh, I like Android. Nice phone.” I am a confident consumer. I bought the phone I prefer and use the OS I think is better. Don’t agree? Great!

Apple has some clean up to do with their user interface, Siri, and Maps. They have some problems to solve with payments and Passbook, and maybe some disruption to cause in the television space. They have to, at least internally, be humble and, as Steve Jobs might say, stay hungry and foolish. Build something great and then move on. Don’t dwell on it, because your competitors are indeed moving fast.

So will 2013 be a watershed year for Apple?

Will the whole business come crumbling down because Tim Cook didn’t attend the Bauhausschule? Will Apple’s stock plummet when their margins fall from 39% to 38%? Will millions of loyal Apple customers leave the ecosystem because they can’t move files to an external SD card?

Meh. Probably not.

Correction: I referred incorrectly to Apple’s payment and reward app as “Passport”. I have corrected it to read “Passbook.”