My least favorite kind of tech punditry involves saying that some company is “losing” or even better “doomed” because it’s not behaving exactly as one of its competitors is behaving. We hear all the time that both Apple and Microsoft are “doomed” even though they are enormously profitable companies that account for two of the three largest market caps in the tech world. One shining example of this sort of punditry comes to us courtesy of FinancesOnline, which declares that Apple is falling far behind Google because the products that it’s releasing don’t seem as exciting as Google Glass. I am not making this up.
Before we go any further, I want to emphasize that this isn’t a pro-Apple or anti-Google fanboy rant, especially since I lean much more toward the Google side when it comes to my personal preferences. However, I also recognize that both companies have been very successful on their own terms and they both behave differently because they make money in different ways.
Techniques and strategies that may work wonderfully for one company won’t work for the other and vice-versa. Back when Apple was absolutely crushing everything in sight back in 2011, it was popular to say that Google needed to be “more like Apple.” Now that Google has the perceived upper hand, Apple is being told that it needs to “be more like Google.”
Which brings us back to FinancesOnline’s piece, which tries to list all of the reasons that Apple now “only” has the second-most valuable brand in the world while Google has jumped up to the top spot. Yes, you read that correctly: Apple apparently needs to completely change its corporate culture because it’s now “only” the No. 2 brand in the world.
“Industry observers believe Apple’s calculated process to churn out a perfect product slows down its progress,” writes author David Adelman. “If they are to be believed, the race is to the swift and Google has been launching new and more innovative projects faster: Google Glass, Internet of Things, Google Maps and Google Music All Access are some of the exciting goings-on announced at the last I/O conference. Sure, Apple had its own releases last year, iPhone 5S and 5c, but the smartphone arena is getting a little boring. Apple needs some oranges.”
Oy. Where to begin.
The biggest mistake that many pundits make lies in thinking that Google must be more innovative than Apple because it dazzles us with all sorts of flashy product concepts that are actually still in their early stages of development and may not have much chance of actually being successful.
Remember when Google got everyone to gasp with wonder at Google Glass two years ago? Well now Glass is widely seen as the single dorkiest gadget the world has seen since the Segway and Google is scrambling like mad to make it more fashionable. Similarly, Google’s self-driving cars seem incredibly cool… but they’re years away from becoming a reality and we have no idea whether or not they’ll actually work out.
Google loves to show off every single little idea that its engineers think of, in part because it helps cement the company’s image as one that’s willing to go after “moon shots” that will make the world a better place. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this because when Google’s big initiatives work out — think Gmail, Google Maps, Android and Chromecast — they are absolutely terrific. But just as often, they will absolutely crash and burn, sometimes even before they actually release (remember the Nexus Q?).
Apple, in contrast, makes many of its biggest mistakes behind the scenes. Yes, the company has had its share of botched product launches, particularly when it comes to online services such as Apple Maps and MobileMe, but for the most part it won’t release something until it’s sure to make its user base happy. Neither approach is really wrong since both companies post huge profits and have large, dedicated fan bases.
This answer doesn’t satisfy Adelman, though. No, in his mind if two companies handle their business differently, it means that one must be winning while the other is losing.
All of which, dear readers, leads us to this gem from Adelman’s column:
“Sometimes we think Apple set a high standard for itself. Consumers and investors now expect no less than disruptive products in every Apple launch the way of iPod/iTunes, iPhone and iPad. When that doesn’t happen, people scratch their head in disappointment.”
If by “scratching their head in disappointment” you mean “lining up outside Apple stores like lunatics for days on end” and “buying more than 43 million iPhones per quarter six months after the last big product launch,” then yes, I suppose that’s disappointment. By most sane measures, however, that seems like a company that’s actually in pretty healthy shape.
Although I’m picking on Adelman’s column here, I’ve found that his views are actually quite a common line of thinking in financial punditry, which often is all about chasing the latest shiny object that’s being dangled in front of your eyes — recall the analyst who said that Apple would “disappear” unless it released an iWatch within the next two months! Thankfully, however, most big tech companies aren’t being run by Wall Street pundits who are all about chasing down short-term profits at the expense of long-term strategic thinking.