Timothy Lee writing for Forbes:
I’ve argued before that Apple is good at producing great user interfaces thanks to its top-down, designer-centric product development process. But that approach becomes a liability for building scalable network services. For those kinds of tasks, Google’s bottom-up, engineer-driven organizational structure works better.
Lee goes on to use a “funnel” analogy where the lowly user is at the narrow end and simply can’t absorb all the information being pushed through the bigger end.
Google and Apple like to start from opposite ends of the funnel, and this tendency is reflected in the mobile OSes they’ve built. Apple starts with the skinny end of the funnel, making the user interface as simple and intuitive as possible.
OK, so far so good.
Google, in contrast, focuses on the wide end of the funnel. The company has focused on making Android work gracefully with as much of the “real world” as possible.
Translation: business partners take priority over users. This is nothing new with the Google philosophy- just look at where the two companies traditionally make their money. Apple’s customer is the end user. Apple tries to build the best, most appealing product in the hopes that people will like it enough to purchase it over the competition. So far that strategy has worked out pretty well for them. Google gives Android away to handset and tablet makers for free, and they don’t get a cut of the hardware it’s being sold on (although Microsoft sure does). The money is made by selling ads, pure and simple. Get Android in front of enough eyeballs and Google reaps the rewards paid to them by advertisers- their real customers.
Put more abstractly, Google’s focus on the fat end of the funnel means that the narrow end—the user experience—suffers. The price of interoperating with a wide variety of third parties is that Android is sometimes forced to present its users with features that feel “half baked.” Many of the features that “just work” on the iPhone, like music syncing and mail client configuration, require babysitting by Android users.
Sounds great. Sign me up.
Lee’s ultimate point is that Apple’s restrictive policies don’t allow companies around the world to customize, tweak, and add their own apps onto iPhones, and that these limitations hobble Apple’s attempt to gain market share. Hey- it’s Windows vs. Mac all over again! In 2011, though, things are quite different. There is room for both companies to flourish (and if they’re lucky, maybe Microsoft and HP too). It’s not an “either-or” argument.