Whether it’s impeccable planning or dumb luck, it’s good news for Google, which is under heavy fire for its business practices across the pond. Google is the enemy of several prominent technology companies: it’s Google vs. Facebook for how to organize and monetize personal information for ads; it’s Google vs. Microsoft for the share of our desktop applications and web browsers; and of course is Apple vs. Google for the smartphone operating system market.
Without overtly saying so, Google is trying to distance themselves from both the iPhone/iPad app store and their worries in Europe with today’s announcement. The open app builder is a nod to the legal and regulatory hurdles that any large company faces, but it’s also an important business and positioning strategy.
Computer nerds of yesteryear may begin to recognize Google’s strategy for taking down Apple. In the 1980s, Apple computers were an island – Apple software only worked on Apple hardware. IBM, the other major personal computer manufacturer, built a platform that could be cloned, resulting in “IBM-compatible” computers. As computers found their way into the home, the consumer had two choices – one computer that could run software built for multiple platforms, and one which could only run Apple-specific programs. It didn’t kill off Apple’s computer business, but it’s the reason that Windows PC’s (the descendant of the IBM-compatibles) have the market share they have today.
Today, Google’s Android OS is available on multiple smartphones from multiple carriers, just like Microsoft’s MS-DOS was available on multiple types of computers by 1989. And Apple’s iPhone only runs apps designed specifically for Apple’s iPhone. And by democratizing their app process, Google is trying to remind us all of just that.
As easy as it would be to point to Jobs’s chest-beating, this is the second time in two weeks where a company is drawing ire from inside the beltway. And in both cases, the companies in the crosshairs are direct competitors to Google. That doesn’t make Google the Michael Corleone of federal tech policy, taking out enemies silently and sequentially (though it would be kind of cool if it were). It does mean that technology policymakers seem to be on the same page as Google as far as what access to the internet or the mobile web should look like.
California’s “Uniform Trade Secrets Act” is unambiguous, partly defining “trade secret” as “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process.” The Act uses several definitions of “misappropriation,” of a trade secret with one being: “Acquisition of a trade secret of another by a person who knows or has reason to know that the trade secret was acquired by improper means.”
An unreleased phone accidentally left in a bar and sold to Gizmodo surely qualifies as acquisition “by improper means.” Proper means would be purchase of the device from Apple, following its public release.
Wilcox also mentions the recourse Apple would have if they chose to pursue it. At this point, it doesn’t look like Apple is going to make a move – and from that fact follows the point which makes the whole discussion moot: Apple doesn’t want Gizmodo to take down their “exclusive look” at the iPhone – not even the post where the phone gets dissected it like a science class frog – ostensibly, the party that tips Apple’s hand the most to industry competitors.
Of course Apple wants the pictures up on the internet, and of course they want everyone talking about the brand new secret product. Consider that Apple announced the existence of the iPad months before the official release date; this staged rollout allowed Apple to break into two news cycles.
Not to play conspiracy theorist, but Apple could benefits from three rounds of coverage – the current stories about the leak, stories about the announcement, and finally the release (complete with the requisite long lines around the block early in the morning at an Apple store near you). Is it far-fetched to think Apple would have left this “lost” phone in plain view as a brilliant guerrilla marketing move? Then again, maybe Apple wouldn’t have any security systems in place that would prevent an engineer from taking a super-secret prototype out of a lab and into a bar. Apple may not have purposefully leaked the iPhone 4, but they clearly aren’t crying about it now.
But as much fun as it would be to deflate the hype, the iPad will most likely be a runaway success – not only because it’s probably neat to play with, but because Apple is the Sarah Palin of the tech industry.
Yet, their track record for translating innovation to consumer success is built on a cultural coolness factor that transcends technical specifications. And Apple capitalizes on this through the app store – inviting third parties to have some sort of vested interest in the product’s success.
Like Apple, Palin has cultivated a strong core following and reputation that invokes attention – from supporters and opponents alike. Fox News and The Learning Channel both know this translates controversy, media buzz, and ultimately ratings. And as is the case with Apple, third party groups (like TV networks) to have a stake in the attention that Palin receives. In many ways, she doesn’t even have to be creative about how she’s presented – just as Apple largely relies on app developers to define how the iPad is used. Those third parties benefit, and therefore have a vested interest in her continued visibility.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
So if you find yourself watching the coverage of the iPad and wondering whether or not it will earn enough industry support to eventually take off, ask yourself how long you’ll have to go before seeing something about Sarah Palin on TV.
The idea of the app itself is actually impressive, strategically. Pepsi and AMP know their target audience, and their target audience is interested in hooking up with young women and telling their friends – or at least sophomoric humor about hooking up with young women and telling their friends. So the app provides information and enables users to brag about their conquests. The content may be offensive, but the basics of the social strategy are sound: combining education with channels of communication.
This use of technology made me think about the applications to political efforts – and reminded me a little bit of the portable DVD players used by Rep.Patrick McHenry when he ran for Congress in 2004. Way back then, door-to-door volunteers delivered video messages from McHenry to voters. In 2010, those volunteers might be armed with a personal video message, voter history, precinct walking sheets, polling locations,and megabytes of other information which is constantly being updated – literally in the palms of their hands.
Apple has rejected a proposed iPhone application because it is, as ReadWriteWeb reports, “politically charged.” The app in question helps advocates for nationalized, single-payer health insurance organize and make an impact – or it would, if anyone could download it.
There are plenty of people who would disagree with the app’s goal. But, as with any speech, the answer is to respond in kind – perhaps to create another app that helps people organize and speak out for a patient-driven health care system.
Apple has every right to reject any app it wants. That may not be the best business decision, though. Part of the iPhone’s appeal is it’s ability to be the Swiss army knife of mobile devices through the various applications. By rejecting political applications, Apple is cutting out a large segment of potential users. (And incidentally, the Obama campaign released a similar app about a year ago to help mobilize voters and volunteers.)
If this move was an attempt to avoid political controversy, Apple couldn’t have gotten it more wrong.