Wallet, Watch, and What We Learned from Google I/O and Apple’s WWDC

Opinion

The two leading platform owners in the smartphone industry, Apple and Google, are going in very different directions—particularly in their philosophies about privacy, and approaches to the “next billion” smartphone users—with major implications for app developers and consumers.

Team Apptentive attended both companies’ annual developer conferences, held in late May and early June, in San Francisco at the Moscone Center. There were a lot of similarities to the conferences and the large announcements:

  • Both the iOS and Android ecosystems now offer watches, with thousands of apps available right now if you’re one of the few million watch owners.
  • Both companies are making a lot of progress internationally and shared some impressive numbers around their growth outside the U.S.
  • The maturation of the mobile operating systems is leading to a host of performance and user interface tweaks for both companies, which should refine and improve the experience for those of us adopting the latest hardware.
  • Both platforms are integrating search and “deep linking” capabilities into their app strategies, meaning that the operating system should know more about each app you install. That should allow you to more quickly navigate between the apps, passing along relevant context as you do so.
  • Google announced “Google Pay”, an update and rebrand to its Google Wallet offering that enables new Android device owners to just pay with a tap at many stores. Ironically, Apple Pay, which has been out for close to a year and gaining steam with banks and retail partners, was renamed “Apple Wallet”.

Beneath the headlines, we saw a lot more that indicates where the two platforms are really diverging and what it means for developers and consumers. Here are four of the most important takeaways:

1. Google is clearly on a global attack path.

The recurring theme during Google I/O was “the next billion.” Now that the Android operating system is in the hands of over a billion people worldwide, Google is working to put Android devices in the hands of people who have never had a smartphone.

To that end, the introduction of numerous speed optimizations (from the OS itself to how it renders web content for Google-controlled properties) were a massive investment of engineering resources that should make Android a far better experience in the developing world.

Prices for Android devices and services continue to drop dramatically, thanks to the ecosystem of hardware partners and Google’s own aggressive work on affordable laptops using the Chrome OS.

2. Apple continues to invest in really high-end capabilities.

Last year Apple introduced Metal for iOS, a more efficient way to control and manage the graphics capabilities of the devices. This year, at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) highlighted how it had been adopted and introduced Metal for OS X as well. This is a substantial move forward for the gaming vertical, in particular. High-end graphics and gaming capabilities are largely targeted towards the top of the market. Introducing Metal for OS X emphasizes the more lucrative, but much smaller footprint of Apple’s desktop computing platforms.

Apple introduced multitasking for iOS, particularly emphasizing what it means for the iPad, which they’re starting to position as a device to do real work on. The iPad continues to be a premium-priced product, and while the opportunity to replace laptops with tablets represents a potential cost savings for consumers, this is about taking more share from PC manufacturers, not creating new customers entirely.

The Apple Watch got a lot of time in the keynote, with the biggest announcement being that watch apps could be created natively for the Watch, instead of requiring a connection with your iOS device. This is asking a lot of the developer ecosystem, as it represents yet another area to invest engineering and design time. Apple’s approach here indicates that they’ll be revising the hardware regularly over the next several years to keep up with the requirements of the most aggressive native Watch app developers.

3. Context, machine learning, privacy, and personal information: The buzzwords of positioning and philosophical differences between the two companies.

A few weeks ago, Tim Cook publicly criticized the actions of companies like Facebook and Google pertaining to consumer privacy. Apple is clearly putting a stake in the ground about how it uses consumer information. Presenters at WWDC made a show of diagramming how the company uses information on the device in order to make contextual recommendations. The line that Apple is trying to walk is a thin one, but their stance is that they won’t be storing any of your information in their databases and they’re cracking down on any third parties who might be attempting to do so.

Google, on the other hand, used its keynote to highlight how much work its engineers have done over the past 15 years to become the best in the world at machine learning and automatic contextual predictions. From its release of the new Photos app, which automatically categorizes your photos and even identifies who is in them, to the presentation of Google Now on Tap, Google was sharing with us exactly how much it can deduce from the information it’s collecting. Google has never been shy about collecting consumer data, storing it in its data centers, and analyzing it. This year’s I/O felt like a public demonstration of exactly how much better it knows and understands people than everyone else.

Over the next 12 months, I expect both companies to underscore their different approaches and preach their advantages, with Google highlighting the ease of use and Apple presenting the fear case about privacy breaches and “creepiness”.

4. Music vs. Cardboard: which company’s pet project is going to be most impactful?

Steve Jobs famously trained many of us to expect “One More Thing” from Apple at the end of big presentations. This year’s “One More Thing” was the announcement of Apple Music: a streaming music service, a global radio station, and an artist engagement platform, all in one. The 35-minute-plus presentation seemed to wander and was atypically confusing and lacking crispness. Music has long been an important piece of the Apple story and while it’s too early to tell if this service will really resonate, the announcement felt more evolutionary than revolutionary.

On the other hand, last year Google introduced us to Cardboard, a very cheap virtual reality solution that literally just requires a foldable piece of cardboard and a smartphone. This year’s keynote spent a lot more time talking about Cardboard and its possibilities, highlighting use cases in the developing world and in the media industry that show how broad the ambitions of the team must be. At a time when companies like Oculus (now owned by Facebook) and Magic Leap (a very large Google investment) are diving into virtual reality with very high end solutions, Cardboard feels a bit like a toy. But it might be the toy that everyone can eventually afford. My take on this is that Google Glass isn’t dead, it’s just morphing into Cardboard, yet another investment in Google’s aim to connect the next billion.

Robi Ganguly is CEO and Co-Founder at Apptentive, a company that helps app makers boost ratings, drive downloads, increase loyalty, and earn customer loyalty. Follow @rganguly

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