I have an Android phone. It was my absolute first choice when I was looking for a phone. I’m a power user. I like to do odd things with my phone, and I had researched my choice quite well before diving in. My HTC Desire was served me well for a year and a bit now. I want to upgrade, and when I upgrade it’s going to be to another Android device like the Galaxy Nexus. Beautiful hardware, and Android 4 is looking very beautiful (especially compared to the version I get to run on my device right now).
But Android has its limitations. I’m not talking hardware, fragmentation, or any of that junk that doesn’t really matter or has largely been solved.
I’m talking about vision. Specifically the vision of the Android team and (I’ll get into this a little later) the vision of Google in general.
Android is always playing catch-up. Really. Ever since it was announced, it has played catch-up to iOS. There may be many reasons for this, especially when building a device to fit a bunch of different hardware from different manufacturers, with different form factors. Apple may (and probably does) have it a lot easier than Android due to its single-device nature.
Of course none of that really matters. What matters is the device that the customer gets in their hand.
Android has a bunch of really cool features I could mention. But none of them is a big selling point. I can’t point to a single feature or group of related features on Android and say, “That’s why I bought an Android device.” Larger screen, cloud backups, good notification system, etc. But none of those is a really killer feature.
Android’s killer features have been, as far as I can tell, that it is on cheaper devices. It’s open. You can can do some geeky things with it. But it still feels unfinished and a bit awkward. Slapped together.
Now, iOS is playing catch-up too. Their notification system was notoriously broken. They had no cloud backup. But as usual, iOS caught up to Android in those areas. Then they moved the goalposts.
Siri is a killer feature. It really is. I don’t personally like the idea of talking to my phone, even though I often narrate text into my Android phone. Speech-to-text (when done right) feels stupid, but it makes typing seem really, really slow and bothersome. The little easter eggs built into Siri encourage exploration and further usage. It’s good to look at. It’s a selling point, and a big one.
That’s how you move the goalposts. Apple has always been good at that, and that’s a good thing because we all benefit.
There’s no way that Android, who had speech-to-text first, by the way, can create a competing project in the next while without seeming like a huge me-too.
Android had speech-to-text before iOS did. It was here and there. There was voice search (of course), and voice transcription, and some voice controls, but nothing like Siri. You have to ask: Why not? Did no-one at Google thing, “We should do a unified AI assistant”?
They should have. I’ve had the idea before. It’s not a new thing. It’s hard to do, especially when you consider the spotty history of voice input (Microsoft, I’m looking at you), and digital assistants (Microsoft, again, I’m looking at you).
The phone is the absolute best space for this. It has a built in microphone, connects to the internet so all the horsepower doesn’t have to be in your hand, and is has always been a space in which text input is difficult and time consuming.
This is a failure of vision. All the pieces were in place for Android to do that, but no-one put the pieces together.
(There’s also a huge failure of branding and marketing at Google, as they had iCloud functionality first as well and no-one freaking knows it; but that’s a whole other post.)
Isn’t this characteristic of Google right now, though? All the pieces and no-one to put them together.
Think about every product that Google has launched since search and Gmail (and maybe Maps, maaaaaaybe Chrome). They’ve all been me-too products. Search and Gmail revolutionized their fields. Android, Picasa, PicasaWeb, Google+ (most obviously), Reader, Books, Music, App Engine, etc, are all pushing into markets with dominant players with better products. None of these services is particularly visionary or different in their field than the products or platforms they’re trying to displace.
This isn’t to say Google isn’t going to be marvelously successful in some or even many of those areas. Copying or buying others has always been a great business strategy (as always, Microsoft is a great example of how to copy well).
But if you want to truly own the market you have to be more than a copier and a follower. You have to be a visionary. Move the goalposts. Get there before the other guy. Especially when you have all the pieces in front of you, and all you have to do it put them together.