Patrick B. Gibson is the latest to posit that Apple should buy Twitter — Gibson argues that Apple needs Twitter in order to make successful web services. On the surface this is a pretty solid argument, with this being the most quoted line of the article:
My friend and co-worker Tom has a thesis about Apple’s biggest problem: Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services.
That’s a gross oversimplification of the competition to Apple that Google poses and truly isn’t much of a problem. I think the problems need to be broken down by each company to see what is really happening.
Apple’s current problems:
- Under-age and poor working conditions in overseas factories.
- Web services that have yet to be proven reliable.
- Intellectual property theft, resulting in shockingly similar competing products.
- Inability to keep up with demand.
- No social networking presence.
- Mapping problems.
- Voice search.
Google’s current problems:
- Design that is lacking.
- A social networking presence that is as robust as Microsoft’s.
- Lack of profitability from Android.
- Motorola’s, umm, “issues”.
- Infringement on other’s intellectual property (see: Motorola).
- No control over hardware, must partner with other companies.
- No presence in the living room.
The problem isn’t as simple as Google getting good at design faster than Apple is at web services — just as it wouldn’t be a problem for Google if Apple was suddenly amazing at web services.
The real thing that should be concerning people is how shockingly well Apple has all of their problems under control:
- Factory conditions are being solved by starting to open factories in the U.S., independent audits, and threatening to cease business with factories that don’t meet Apple standards.
- To say that Apple is horrible at web services, is becoming a statement like the old adage: “Macs are too expensive.” It used to be true, but with each passing day Apple’s web services are getting shockingly good and reliable. I use iCloud everyday and have yet to have a problem with syncing, backups, or document storage. It’s not that people don’t have problems, but it’s more that the problems truly are less and less everyday.
- As for IP theft, enter licensing and lawsuits — which Apple has proven they are pretty damned good at.
- The inability to keep up with demand is not only a good problem to have, but an easy one to fix with more factories (which is what Apple is doing).
- I have yet to see a valid reason why Apple needs a social network. If Apple just chooses to partner instead they don’t ever have to worry about their offering being relevant, only that they partner with the relevant social networks. As they have with Facebook and Twitter — why would we need an Apple social network when we have two massive ones already?
- The mapping issues are very real, but also very new. They are also not the type of problem that will sink Apple — Apple would swallow its pride and go back to Google Maps before they let mapping sink the company. Give it a year, this problem will be gone.
- Voice search is an interesting one. Siri is very good when it works, but it’s not consistent, or as fast as Google. This is one problem Apple really needs to focus on as they have questionable control over it right now.
So, out of all the issues I think you could make a good case that Apple has two large problems with Maps and Voice Search — neither are huge problems with web services, but with fine tuning the current offerings (the hard part is already done).
Now look at Google’s problems:
- Design is still an issue, and while they are improving, Android still looks like crap compared to iOS or Windows Phone.
- They have a social network, but it’s not popular. It’s not only then a money pit, but a talent pit.
- Not making money from your mobile OS is a real problem. Luckily I don’t think that is the case, but it’s hard to argue that they are making anywhere close to the money Apple is (from either iOS or soon Android).
- Motorola is going to become a huge red number on their income statements soon — and will/is causing trust issues with Android “partners”.
- While Google hasn’t directly been sued, every Android “partner” is, including Motorola. Not just by Apple either, Microsoft too. Bottom line, whether directly or indirectly Google is going to pay for the IP problems in Android.
- The lack of hardware control is always going to be problematic as we see now that Google is starting to see the issues with always relying on another company with conflicting motivations. Most Android users say they have a Samsung, or HTC, or just Android — you’ll never here the Google name in there. Further what if HTC and Samsung jump to another platform — what then of Android? That’s why they bought Motorola, but they were also only able to buy Motorola because Motorola isn’t a popular device maker right now.
- And lastly Google TV, Q, whatever. The Apple TV may just be a hobby, but it’s a damned great one for Apple devotees. No one can say that about Google — so if Apple comes out tomorrow with a dominant media offering for the living room, they are already set to move on it for millions of users. Google would find itself with its pants down.
Apple is in control of most of its problems, Google is focusing on the wrong problems.
Even my small list here is a gross oversimplification of the problems, but far more accurate than Gibson’s oversimplification.
Oh, and on the idea that Apple should buy Twitter: why? The top talent is already leaving the company — it’d be easier and cheaper just to offer them a million each to come to Apple for a couple years — you can’t buy Twitter for $100 million, but I bet you could buy 80-90 of their best engineering talents for that sum.