Apple and Google, two of the world’s most successful tech companies have wildly different approaches to everything from building products to doing business. So much so, that they can often seem to be living on different planets. And yet, they are both still successful.
How is that possible?
Why are they so different?
These days both companies serve similar products too many of the same customers in many of the same markets. They both do everything from phone and PC hardware to phone and PC operating systems, voice assistants, wireless earphones, email clients, and much more, so with this many overlapping businesses, one could expect them to act similarly.
Instead, they’re different.
And I think these differences are rooted in the founding stories of each of these two companies.
- Google, as we all know started with a search engine, and for the longest time focused on internet services that were adjacent to that very search engine.
- Apple, on the other hand, started out by building physical devices and expanded from there.
Each company developed a unique formula for success that made sense in their respective categories, and for the most part, they have both since stuck to those formulas. Hence their differences.
Google’s formula for Success
Google, a native of the internet space has developed and religiously followed the perfect formula for internet services:
- First, build a ton of products.Anything that seems like a good idea.
- Second, release them to the public early. Like, way before anyone would call them polished products.
- Third, get instant user feedback, so instead of guessing what is a good idea and what isn’t, you can see for yourself works and what doesn’t.
- Fourth, take the things that work and improve them until they become kickass products, using actual usage data to guide you along the way.
- And finally, take the things that don’t work, and kill them quickly. That way you avoid wasting your resources.
And that’s it.
This strategy works well because on the internet, launching, improving and killing products is relatively easy, so being fast is more important than being perfect out of the gate. Nothing is permanent, and people usually don’t pay for products anyway so whatever.
Mark Zuckerberg for example, who employs a similar strategy famously said at one point that he wants his employees to move fast and break things.
Release first, fix later.
Apple formula for Success
Apple, on the other hand, is a premium hardware maker at heart, with the price tags to match, so the formula they have developed is basically the opposite of that of Google. Hardware is expensive and people have to explicitly pay for it, meaning that they have strong expectations for it to keep working, and hardware can’t really be fixed or removed from the market once it has been sold.
So releasing first and fixing later is not an option. And for a company like Apple, which got rich off of its brand being premium and their products having a good reputation, releasing half-finished products or stopping support for them halfway through their lifecycle also isn’t an option.
So instead, Apple has developed the following the formula for success:
- Apple is happy to wait until others, like Google, prove a category or a technology to be interesting.
- They let others publicly experiment and fail and learn from their failings.
- Once they have decided that a category is interesting enough, they develop products internally and try to keep them a secret as long as possible.
- For a company the size of Apple, remarkably few products ever make it out of those secretive Apple labs, so we can be sure that products go through rigorous testing internally, and all but the best are killed off before they
ever reach the market.
- Once Apple finally launches products, they are usually as finalized and as polished as products get.
Not a ton of betas to be found anywhere.
And because Apple launches so few products, they can afford to stand behind each one of them with extended support even when some of them aren’t as successful as expected.
If you think about it, despite a few missteps like the battery slowing issue recently, there hasn’t been a single, major Apple product in recent memory that was discontinued or stopped being supported before the end of it’s expected shelf life.
Which is quite amazing and very unlike Google.
Conclusion and Thoughts
Conclusion 1 :
- Google’s formula lets them be lean, efficient and move fast, all of which are crucial on the internet, while Apple’s formula helped them build a premium, reliable brand, which customers trust and are willing to pay extra for.
As both companies have matured though, they have both outgrown their own respective fields and started encroaching onto each other’s territories.
Conclusion 2 :
- Apple, for example, makes a ton of internet services and software. Listen to it on any of their investors’ calls and they will tell you that their digital “Services” division, which includes things like AppleMusic, Apple TV, and the App Store, is their most important new growth area. That division alone, by the way, is the size of a Fortune 100 company by now.
At the same time, Google seems more focused than ever on becoming a hardware company.
Sure, it’s had the Nexus line and bought companies like Motorola and Nest in the past, but all of those felt a little like half-hearted attempts.
In the last year or two though, Google went all-in on hardware with an entire line of premium, Google-branded devices.
So it’s interesting to see how they both handle this transition.
Conclusion 3 :
- On the one hand, they are both clearly adopting each others’ tactics to some extent, simply because those tactics are proven to work in the new categories.
For example, since 2015, Apple is making new versions of their operating systems available to the public through a beta program. A move that is very unlike Apple.
And Google’s hardware lineup to is quite Apple-like in many ways. It’s vertically integrated, with a focus on flagship devices only and with high price tags to match for example.
Conclusion 4 :
- At the same time, they both clearly still want to apply their own winning formulas in some places as well, so Google sometimes treats their hardware like software and is willing to release new, experimental products like
Google Clips for example, which, might or might not flop, and could be discontinued at any time.
A typical, experimental Google move.
And Apple often treats their software like hardware.
So they usually enter existing, safe categories, like music streaming and smart TVs instead of trying to do radically new things.
A typical calculated Apple move.
Conclusion 5 :
- And this really shows in their approach to radically new technologies like augmented reality for example.
Google, of course, was the first to release a real smartphone AR platform when it announced project Tango in 2014.
It was a pretty rough beta at first and it took them around 2 years until first Lenovo and then ASUS finally released the first commercially available Tango powered phones.
And then the project basically died.
Because not long after, Apple announced their own AR platform called AR Kit, which did most of the same things Tango did, but unlike Tango, it didn’t need extra, bulky depth sensors.
It just ran by default on any modern iPhone, which clearly made it a more attractive proposition, and so, Google quickly followed suit too.
While it hasn’t officially announced the death of Tango, it has clearly shifted its attention away from it and on to its new AR platform called AR Core instead.
Much like Apple’s AR Kit, AR Core also works without the need for extra sensors.
The two are basically equivalent.
And it’s unclear who will win this race yet, but this is the perfect example of their different approaches.
Google launches early and corrects course just as quickly when it has to, not hesitating to abandon a previous product.
Apple, on the other hand, waits until much later, when it can be sure that it won’t need to abandon anything.
Both have their positive and negative sides, I guess, and it will be interesting to see if the two companies hold on to these formulas in the future, or if they will move on to become more and more similar to each other.