long-time readers of this blog are quite familiar with Nicholas Johnson.
I’ll share a recent email I sent him (well it was this very daily, in fact) in response to some advice I was seeking from him around a Chromebox. Nicholas is quite the Android afficianado, and technologist:
Good morning Nicholas.
Thanks for the link. I’m getting old in terms of many proclivities. For example I find myself less interested in what most people write, and my tolerance for poor research has ebbed to practically nil.
However, I’m keen for this exchange given our shared passion for technology.
So… I agree with you that the author of the piece you have shared with me strives for objectivity. I have an intellectual understanding of why Apple takes other companies to court. I just don’t like anyone using the judicial system as a blunt-edged weapon. So, I appreciate Apple’s efforts as a shareholder, but resent the ponderousness of it all. Having said that, I’m not convinced that either Apple or Google (or Samsung) are genuinely pioneering new technology. I used “pioneering” because my fingers won’t let me tap “innovative” (rats!) again. All three companies acquire, borrow or utilize technology from other sources. Their “job” (what word would you use?) is to leverage technology in a meaningful way that makes it appealing and useful to improve our quality of life and productivity. So, I guess it comes down to competition or packaging and presentation. All three companies spend a lot of money on R&D. And, it seems analysts are judging companies by their R&D budgets. If you combined the R&D budgets of those three example companies you could probably run economy of Great Britain.
There is a great deal of anticipation around the up-coming Apple iPhone 6. I’ve seen the working prototype and I want it more than I did the iPhone 5. In-fact, I use an iPhone 5C (my daughters have the 5S), and I’ve never really cared about it. The device works fine. As you know, I keep looking for someone else to come up with a device I like more. This includes HTC, LG, Samsung, etc. They make terrific hardware that is probably as good as Apple’s. My ONLY issue with those devices is that Android does not work for me. Its my sensibilities. I want it to work; and badly. Its just not there, yet. However, I know that eventually the Android experience will be on-par with Apple’s. And, the competition is terrific for consumers. Its also endlessly fascinating to me that the iPhone 6 will likely be a singular event that will push the planet off its axis. Its important for technology enthusiasts, shareholders, and people that care about how and why cultures work. A lot of people will buy the iPhone. It will generate record revenue for a company that sets the standard for profits (and margins). Its simply astonishing that a company of this vintage can raise its own bar again and again while setting the standard for best practices (or, perhaps that is precisely the point).
Circling back to pioneering/ innovation/ experience… I’m going to use the iPhone 6 as an example for my entire email thus far. Lets focus on the screen. Apple is finally delivering a device with a larger screen – something Android users have had options for going on roughly three years. I know that Apple could have delivered a larger screen as well before now but had concerns about pixel density, screen quality, and how applications looked on the device. With Apple, form, function and appearance (the experience) drive decisions – not the opinion of analysts. Also, Apple is constantly refining its products and incrementally reducing the cost without dropping quality (the recent upgrades for the Macbook Air and iMac are good examples). And, this brings into sharp focus the vital difference between the three companies I’m referencing in this email… Apple is the only one of that group that combines hardware and software in their unique mobile devices (I’m not counting Google glass in this example; but then, I don’t know who manufactures that hardware, anyway). Google and Samsung have an uneasy alliance that benefits one another. Apple stands alone. And, maybe thats another reason why the Apple eco-system still feels “tighter” and has a more “finished” feel to it. It also makes it easier to identify with a company that brings the whole package to a market. Google is close (I thought (really believed) it might happen with the acquisition of Motorola – maybe it still will given all the IP Google stripped from it), and that will take me to the ASUS Chromebox, shortly. And, Samsung is working diligently on its own Operating System (“OS”). That is going to make things VERY interesting. Combine their breadth of quality products with an eco-system and… well, …wow…
I talk about this stuff with people daily. Most throw the words Google, Gmail and Android about indiscriminately. They are the same (company/products), but different, right? I love Google. They frustrate me. I want the Android Operating System to be awesome. However, the fact is I am one of those people that will barely scratch the surface in terms of App usability (just like I am with Apple). In fact, other than texting, a flip-phone is probably better suited for me. So, when it comes to Google, I focus on Gmail, Google Drive, and related products. They really are “good enough”. My driving complaint with Gmail is I can’t use multiple email addresses and keep the emails separate like I can on Apple’s Mail or Outlook. Otherwise I would probably use it and do everything from the cloud. Mind you, it bugs me that I can’t use Apple’s iCloud version of Mail for other domain email- for example, firstname.lastname@example.org – (that makes no sense to me at all other than realizing they don’t want you to use their mail on just any computing device). I REALLY wanted Outlook/ Office 365 to work. But, you can’t import contacts into it with contact images intact. That is jaw-dropping and a deal-killer. How is that possible in this digital age? By the way… Despite goofy stuff like that, the company I’m really watching is Microsoft. I respect the CEO, a lot. More on that later. Possibly over beers.
I’ve just taken a pause, here, and am trying to come up with a reason for focusing on the three companies I have and just realized I’m at the risk of ending-up in a rabbit hole. Now I just had the comforting thought that I actually like and appreciate all three (really, four) of them (the companies). I value Google’s pioneering spirit; I appreciate the breadth, quality and visceral nature of Samsung products; and, I fervently love the Apple experience. Each company satisfies something in almost everyone. However, I have a feeling Microsoft and its evolving Windows is going to get cool (again). They are going to rise as a big turnaround story of relevance.
In any event, I discussed my recent experience with the ASUS Chromebox on Linkedin yesterday. I’ve cut-and-pasted below:
“I remain an Apple loyalist if not evangelist. Earning the mantle of “Apple Fanboy” is no easy task. It means you are expert. And, being expert includes understanding other company’s products. So, I’m exploring the ASUS Chrome Box. This is a VERY inexpensive desktop computing device with a small footprint with an all-Google eco-system. I connected it to a dated HP monitor with an HDMI cable and it fired up in roughly five seconds. It found my internet connection, bluetooth keyboard and mouse easily. I plugged-in my gmail information and I was set-up and in-motion. I recommend it. That said, I think the Apple experience remains superior.”
There are several manufacturers of Chromebox. ASUS appears to have the best model. Samsung is getting involved. HP will. Dell did it with a very impressive fob-like device called WYSE Cloud Connect that is similar to the Google Chromecast, but gives you the same result as a Chromebook or Chromebox. Just plug it into a monitor or TV via USB. Very cool. Possibly innovative if part of the definition is usability, mobility and possibly the word, practical.
NOTE: I had a neighbor recently ask me what computer he should ship his daughter off to college with. I told him to purchase an HP Chromebook. She probably has a Gmail account and will use Google Docs for school work. Many/ most colleges leverage the Gmail platform. The Chromebook is sturdy and very inexpensive. Chrome as a browser and OS is fine. Its about a quarter the cost of a Macbook Air.
I am constantly trying to use Ubuntu. I have an Ubuntu box. I have a Lenovo Yoga (stupid name, but terrific hardware), and a Samsung all-in-one desk top. I spend a great deal of time banging around on all of them. But, I always go back to Apple products because they “just work” for me. Some how that is Apple’s differentiator. Others will say its advertising and marketing. But, I do think its our native ability to recognize quality. And Apple has figured out how to make the experience simple and elegant. As soon as someone else – probably Google, Microsoft or Samsung – can match the experience, the devices will all play nice together and all we will care about is the color of the device. But, as I just finished that last sentence, I realized the same argument exists for automobiles. I drive a rigged-up Jeep Wrangler (because I’m a poser) and tell everyone that in Milton, “the Wrangler is the new Porsche”. I also drive a bad-ass Ram 1500 (“El Rojo Grande” to my Lacrosse players). And, we could compare and make the same argument for technology devices as we do for high-end (or, any-end) automobiles. It comes down to style, taste and expectations. There is not a lot difference between cars by class. It comes down to performance and taste.
By the way… I add this with nothing but respect and admiration as my intention… The best strategy Google has deployed today is its mythology around recruiting people. They have created a desire for Google as a cultural phenomenon that is cult-like and unprecedented – creating a associative brand that is awe inspiring. Its cool to work at Google. Its hard to work, as in difficult, at Apple. Soon, its going to be important to work at Microsoft (maybe it always has been – Balmer was just a problem).
I appreciate you. Oh… And, I miss you as well.
The aforementioned email from the indefatigueable, and certainly, redoubtable, Nicholas Johnson:
AreyoureferringtotheChromeBookortheChromeBox? I believethereisonlyoneChromeBox – which is specifically designed for business.
As far as the Chromebooks go, I have the Samsung and love it, and I’ve implemented the HPs for a couple friends who have nothing but good things to say. My wife had the Acer and hated it. The trackpad was all screwy. What’s the purpose of the device?
I think it is fairly well done in terms of maintaining objectivity (difficult on a blog called Android Authority), and it highlights the reason for Apple’s success – unmatched marketing and promotion, not technical prowess.
I hope things are getting better for Joanne. Take care.
Nicholas T Johnson