The Smartphone is the new computing platform

I learned this weekend that Apple thinks the desktop is it’s computing platform.   For Google the smartphone is the primary computing device.

A first world problem is giving your child a tablet or smartphone. How do they buy stuff for their device? How can you stop them running up massive in-app payments by accident.  To even create an iTunes account you need to add a credit card as proof of identity (you can delete it later but it’s a faff).

With the kids wanting to play Minecraft, the solution I came up was gift cards.  The cheapest Google play card is £10. The cheapest iTunes card is £15. Both overkill when Minecraft is only £4.99 but it gives some leeway for buying other stuff and testing the in-app payments theory without running up a massive credit card bill.






Google Play was easy. Try and buy the game, and the payment screen on the tablet has a “redeem” button. Type in your code. Job done.


iTunes was much harder.  Harder because the payment screen on the device only let’s you enter a credit card as a payment option.  An internet search implies you can top up your account online but either I was being thick or its a convoluted process that I couldn’t decipher.  Fire up iTunes on a PC and its dead easy.


So much swearing later the upshot is that I was doing it wrong. It’s 2015 and I thought we live in an smart device world and PC’s are for old people and enterprises. But it seems that Apple consider the smart phone to be an ancillary device to be managed from a computer whereas Google consider the device to be the primary computing platform.  I’d say this is probably a reflection of what the companies are; Apple is a physical products company, Google is an internet services company. But it’s an interesting reflection of the mind set and software interface design choices going on in each company


Google isn’t Apple. And why it may win

Apple is a computer company.  Google is a data and services company.  And that might mean Google win’s the long game

In q3 2014, Apple posted revenue of $37.4 billion and net quarterly profit of $7.7 billion. (source: Macrumors) What’s interesting is if you look at the breakdown of that revenue, the vast majority of that cash comes from hardware sales

And over time that percentage isn’t changing.

Take a look at a similar chart from Google (albeit from 2009) and all of the data is about their advertising.

Trying to find any kind of product breakdown on where Google’s revenue comes from is nigh on impossible.  And that’s kind of the point.  Google’s product is advertising.  So you can kind find plenty of breakdown’s on who is buying Google Ads, how the trend is moving from desktop to mobile, and how Google is trying to monetise that mobile search.  But the revenue from physical product is negligible

As shown above, Apple is a computer company.  Under Steve Job’s helm they’ve been very successful at spotting the computing trends and building products to meet that trend.  And that’s their ongiong challenge.  Apple needs to spot the next computer trend.   Admittedly they weren’t the first product to market in the mobile connected computer space (Palm and Microsoft say hi there) – but they were certainly the first to create a product that generated a mass market.  And then to spot the tablet as the next big computing platform – more product insight there.

However tablets are now in a decline.  Consumer’s are trying to get the best of worlds and increasingly moving to the phablet form factor.  Which provides apple with an interesting challenge because with their Iphone 6+ they aren’t the first to market here. Neither with their Apple Watch.  For a company so reliant on being dominant in the computing platform, not leading that market space is certainly a concern for them.

With the absence of a technology leader spotting those trends and driving best of breed products – Apple’s medium to long term prosperity will certainly be something to watch with interest

(this was supposed to be a post on why Google may win as a services company instead of a physical product company.  But it got too long winded so that post will be in a follow up – TL; DR)


Choose the Ecosystem, not the product

In 2015, it isn’t about the technology product anymore but the services provided that you’re buying into.

My current tablet of choice is an 8 inch Windows 8.1 tablet.  Windows is a much maligned operating system on a tablet.  And for the first few months I hated it. As Microsoft were late to the mobile party, they tried to mitigate their lack of apps by offering Metro plus the legacy desktop mode.  This would enable users to use their old applications on the new touch operating system.  Which has a certain logic to it but fails because when applications aren’t designed for touch, they are horrible.  Trying using the desktop version of Internet Explorer or Chrome is just a bad bad thing.  And that was my first experience with a Windows tablet.

I lived in GMail and Android and tried to bring that with me to Windows.  It failed miserably.  Google Hangouts doesn’t work.  Chrome on a touch device is rubbish.  It’s not just me though.  My Apple fanboy friend tried to change his iPhone for a Nexus.  In his Apple ecosystem he could listen to a podcast on his way home from work then pick up where he left off on his iPad or Macbook.  With the Nexus right in the middle of all the Apple gear, that workflow was broken and he quickly went back to an all Apple environment.   Other examples can be seen as the iWatch isn’t compatible with a Nexus, a Moto 360 won’t work on an iPhone, and nothing works on a Lumia ( 🙂 )

So the point is that when you’re choosing a new phone (or fancy device in general), it’s not the device you’re buying into but the overall ecosystem.  For the device to work as promised, you can’t just dip your toe in the water – you need to choose the ecosystem you want to live in.