Seems like nearly every week there's an Apple versus Google article comparing the two companies mobile operating systems, flagship phones and tablets or their services. But if you look closely you'll see that both companies operate very differently and it's not always easy or honest to compare them on face value. Not just on a philosophical level, but how they make money and their approach to computing are polar opposites of each other, and that's a good thing.
Apple is a vertically structured company who's central philosophy is to create great software and hardware and marry them to offer the best possible experience.
Apple for years have been considered a hardware company for the most part. But as the internet age emerged and the iPod became the default name for MP3 players, services has become a major component of their business. Apple couldn't solely rely on being a great hardware company anymore. Now they have to concentrate just as much, if not more on creating great software and services that run on the hardware. Over the years they've further differentiated themselves by focusing on aesthetics, design and quality, targeting a more premium user with the assertion of a premium experience.
As we move from a hardware driven era into one where software and services can make or break your platform. Having an insular way of doing business or what's colloquially called a "Walled Garden" has it's benefits and it's headaches.
+ Having control of the hardware and software makes it easier for Apple to create a seamless experience across all of their devices. Knowing exactly what's going in and out of what kind of devices makes it much easier to have a very pleasant experience. Both from a services aspect and performance of software.
+ Having total control of the hardware allowed them to make better deals with wireless companies which enables them to push their iOS updates to all of their users devices simultaneously.
- Being locked in a wall garden can be hell getting out of when you want to try another device. Apps, Movies, TV Shows are all locked to the iTunes Store. (Same could be said about other companies as well)
- Playing by Apple's rules can be great when they're in your favor. But if you want to deviate outside of the manicured lawn you might run into some problems. Only apps that go through Apple are allowed to run on your device (Because of security, this could be a plus or a minus depending who you ask). Don't like the standard keyboard sorry you're stuck with it until Apple decides it needs to be changed. You get the point, it's Apple's way or the highway.
Apple as a company has never been about being the biggest, selling the most or market share. Since the iPod, and the success of the iPhone and the iPad people expect them to dominate and when they don't it's view negatively. But Apple is one of the largest companies in the world, not from market share but profit margins. Profits from selling premium hardware at premium prices.
Google is a horizontally structured company who's central philosophy is to get as many people using their products and services as possible. They believe the more people used the internet, the more money they'll eventually make. Which is why their bread and butter is services and software, particularly web-based software (Chrome). Also why they can sell hardware close to cost just to get their OS and services into peoples hands. This is a luxury Apple doesn't share. And while Google's hardware may not be as meticulously designed as Apple hardware it's cheaper prices bring in more people from all around the world to participate in the digital revolution.
Google is a intrinsically unique company because looking at it's balance sheet, it's an advertising company, over 75% of their revenues are made from "Advertising and Services". Meaning Google Search, AdSense, AdWords, etc. are all bringing in the money in order to fund all of the incredible work Google does. From self-driving cars, Google Fiber to Android and Google Glass they have their hands in a lot of forward thinking technologies that may or may not create measurable profits in the short term. If Apple takes established technologies and perfects them secretly until they have a great product, Google experiments with things that aren't quite ready just to see if they can make it work. Sometimes with amazing results, and other times embarrassingly wrong.
The cool thing about Google is that they aren't afraid of trying and failing. They're like the worlds R&D department. The rich kid that uses his advertising "inheritance" to fund cool projects, then gives them away as long as you promise to use them so they can spend the money earned on other cool projects.
Google is mostly platform agnostic. They release their products on both Android and iOS, also on PC and Mac. (Sorry Windows Phone) Their goal is larger than some Android vs. iOS playground fight, they want as many eyeballs using their software and services as possible. Those eyeballs directly and indirectly turns into more money for Google.
Android being an open platform typically has the inverse benefits and problems of Apple.
+ Since the OS is basically free for OEM's to use, Android is available in nearly any size or hardware configuration you want. Allowing the consumer choice has allowed Android to flourish all over the world from the high-end to the extremely low-end, there is usually an Android device to fit your budget and style.
+ Being open also allows for greater access and flexibility of 3rd party applications. Google continued the tradition structure and file management system people are familiar with on PC's. There are no restrictions to particular sections of the phones OS like on iOS (ex. no phone, keyboard, text message access on iOS) and the file system is visible and works like on a traditional PC.
- Not having control of the hardware allows for lots of shoddy products are made with your software running on it. Quality, performance and battery life can very dramatically from device to device. However Google seems to be becoming more involved in hardware through their Nexus devices and the recent release of the Moto X phone.
- Allowing such low level access to the OS and the ability to circumvent the Google Play Store to install apps, opens Android up to more malicious attacks. Security on Android is a constant concern and it seem every couple of months a new exploit or malware is discovered. With the arduous process of getting updates to phones sometimes it takes weeks or months for phones to get patches to these vulnerabilities, if ever.
Ben Thompson eloquently wrote in a blog post that Google created Android to make sure they weren't shut out of the OS space like in the Windows days. If Apple or Microsoft dominated mobile OS's Google could've been squeezed out of the future of the web. Ben goes on to say that Android was a defensive move and now that it's a major player, it's not necessarily vital to the future of Google.
The more you use Google "free" services they more they learn about you and the better they can send you better targeted ads. The more effective targeted ads are, the more they can charge for them which in turn goes to fund their awesome endeavors . It's all a symbiotic cycle that seems to be working quite well as long as Google keeps the trust of it's users.
The simple answer is there is no perfect device or "better" company, it comes down to personal needs and taste. Both companies serve different purposes in the industry and are pushing one another slightly closer to each others philosophies. Apple is being forced to become better at creating online services, opening up their platform more and offering slightly more choice. Google is being forced to create compelling hardware and become better at software and interoperability of their services.
Both companies seem to be searching for and/or developing the next revolution in technology. Be it in voice controlled, predictive digital assistants, wearable computing, or some weird hybrid combination of both. One thing is for sure, we can count on Google to continue trying wacky, engineer-centric ideas to solve problems and Apple to deliver what they think we want before we know we want it.