Can Google harness the Apple tinkerer spirit of yore to defeat Apple?

Thu, Jun 2, 2011

Analysis, News

During Google’s I/O conference a few weeks ago, the company announced the Android Open Accessory Development Kit based on open-sourced Arduino. The development kit, for now, allows external USB hardware to interface with Android devices with future support for Bluetooth support in the pipeline. In short, Android developers will now be able to create their own hardware accessories, something which Google envisions and hopes will propel Android use far beyond the confines of tablets and smartphones.

“Don’t think of it as something we build,” Google’s Andy Rubin explained. “Think of it as something that you can use to expand what Android can do.”

Then on the flipside, there’s Apple who still wields unyielding control over all third party hardware and accessories to the extent that they all must meet Apple’s made for iPod/iPhone/iPad program requirements.

With that dichotomy serving as a backdrop, Mike Cane writes that Google has become what Apple used to be.

So while I shouldn’t argue with [Apple’s] success, I can’t help pointing out that the current stranglehold Apple maintains on its creations will ultimately leave it vulnerable to the same spirit that created the company to begin with: The desire of people to tinker and to dream dreams the original creator never had.

Google seems — and I use the word “seems” deliberately — to be trying to revive the spirit Apple once championed.

The ability of engineers to get a cheap piece of near off-the-shelf hardware that they can interface with a mobile device is compelling in ways that I can’t even begin to imagine. One only has to look at the imaginative things that have been done with Microsoft’s Kinect to understand that having other people tinker is a good thing.

Of course, it’s hard to argue with results. Despite the openness and choice competitors brought to the marketplace, Apple has trounced all-comers first with the iPod, then the iPhone, and now the iPad. There’s clearly something to be said for exerting control and ensuring a uniform and intuitive user experience, but with Google appealing to the inner geek in all of us, is it only a matter of time before Apple’s approach becomes more of a liability than an asset?

Drawing an analogy between Apple and AOL, Cane writes that AOL used to control how we experienced the Internet by slapping a pretty GUI over the web to create their famed walled garden. This is similar, Cane writes, to Apple products. Keeping things simple for the end user.

But just like AOL killed CompuServe before the Internet killed AOL, Kane writes, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the openness of Google kills Apple.

Ultimately, Kane doesn’t believe this will be the case.

But does that mean Google and Android will ultimately triumph?

I don’t think so. Because it turns out Google is just as greed-infected as the old Microsoft.

Yet what Google has done here is whetted the appetite of many.

And that could be its ultimate downfall too. A concerted effort by hackers and tinkerers and makers who have an inevitable run-in with the hidden Google fist could lead to a widespread mutiny and a determination for them to control their own destiny.

If you laugh at that prospect, I have just one word for you to remind you of another past successful mutiny: Linux.

Centralized imagination-limiting control never wins.

It’s important to keep in mind during these discussions that most people aren’t tinkerers and have no desire to get their hands dirty with code. Most people simply want a product that just works, and that’s where Apple’s bread is buttered. It’s easy to predict that openness and tinkerers will rue the day, but when we’re talking about success on a massive scale, simplicity and Apple’s “walled garden” approach seems more advantageous.


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