Jan 042011

Happy New Year to the TMA readership. My resolution: 2560 x 1440.

/boom-tish. Try the Salisbury steak.

With a new year, writers across the land feel compelled to make a bunch of baseless predictions and tech is no exception. I came across some from Google employee Tim Bray in his “ongoing” blog. I didn’t find any of the prognostications in “Year-end View of the Mobile Market” particularly insightful or interesting, but they do speak volumes about how Google thinks. Mercifully, Bray does prepare readers for how patently obvious many of his predictions are. I’ve taken up the challenge of summarizing each of his “things that seem obvious” in 5 words or less. You can click through to see how I did.

In 2011, the smartphone market will/be/continue to (OK, I cheated a bit):

  • Sell a lot of phones
  • Further squeeze “dumb” phone sales
  • Apple, Android > RIM, Nokia, Microsoft
  • Windows 7 Phones: Verdict Unclear

Then he says something about a $500 contract free phone being less than a $199 phone with a contract and wonders when someone will offer financing. Like they have for appliances. Really.

So what are Bray’s not-so-obvious things?

  • The major barrier for tablets replacing laptops? “High-speed low-friction text input”. Translation: the opposite of Android’s touchscreen input.
  • “I’m increasingly coming to think that people buy phones based on the quality and volume of old-fashioned advertising put behind the products. Not coincidentally, not only are the iPhones and iPad excellent devices, they have what is to my eye probably the best advertising in the mobile industry.” Ladies and gentlemen: our first moneyball. The difference between Apple’s and Android’s relative success is marketing. You can see this theory expanded on over at Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite.
  • Apple is going to do a 7″ device. That’s certainly not so obvious. In fact, that’s about 3 colors of the rainbow into Fantasyland. Why will Apple do a 7″ device? “(It) still fits in one hand and you can use for four hours in a row sitting up.” Does Bray mean you can’t use an iPad sitting up for 4 hours? I certainly can. Does he mean having a device that can be extended at arm’s length for 4 hours? Try doing that holding nothing. He concludes emphatically with “This argument is over“, and by the italics you can tell he means it. They should bring Bray in for closing arguments. He could be a Mariano Rivera-esque consultant to defense attorneys. James Spader’s character in Boston Legal just peed his pants a little.

But Bray is at his most compelling in the section titled “Apple vs. Android”, where he pits the advertising powerhouse in Cupertino against the Open Source champions in Mountain View. Who wins?

“I think Apple will sell a ton of devices because they’re good, and superbly marketed. I think a bunch of people will sell a ton of Android devices because they’re good and there are so many options for different needs and networks and price-points.” Emphasis mine

Both are good devices, but that goddamn marketing – those fucking unicorn tears – that’s what lands Apple those insanely high margins EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE ON ONE CARRIER IN THE U.S.!

Let me break it down for you, Tim. The difference – that most obvious of obvious factors you allude to but don’t quite concede – is Verizon. Here’s an illustration of Verizon’s current smartphone unit sales, a period of time I like to call “Before iOS” or “BiOS”, or as you’ll come to remember them: the Salad Years.

This is what will happen at “Zero Hour”, which is immediately after the iPhone becomes available on Verizon. This is also the beginning of “In the year of our Jobs” or “AiOS”.

Finally, once most people are able to rid themselves of their existing contracts and avoid cancellation fees, the landscape should be pretty-well stabilized. Until the iPhone 5…

To wrap up the piece, Bray waxes optimistic about future of the Android platform”

“And there’s nothing fundamental in Android that would get in the way of a industrial-design and user-experience rock-star team, whether at Google or one of the handset makers…”,

And there’s nothing fundamental in the way of my becoming the next Justin Bieber. I can inflect my speaking voice in a way that qualifies as singing, even though I’m not something you’d pay to listen to – or stick around for long if it were free. I have a blog, so there’s really minimal distance between, say, an entry in Douchebag’s Row and some hit single that makes sane people claw at their eyes. I can play chopsticks on the piano, so I am musically inclined – fundamentally. Everything between here and the Top 10 is details.

“…testing the hypothesis that these things are central to Apple’s success.”

Testing the hypothesis that something besides the snappy songs in those ads are what make Apple the most valuable brand in the technology sector. Because – you know – they’re engineers. They need to test all hypotheses, no matter how unlikely.

I’m picturing the Android team’s faces when smartphone unit sales are announced for the first and second quarter of 2011. The genuine looks of befuddlement will be the best part.

  8 Responses to “Tim Bray: If Google Only Had Apple’s Unicorns!”

  1. Brutal, but correct. Tim has a lot of gall to see the speck in Apple’s eye (iOS advertising) and miss the plank in his own (droid advertising). Recent Apple ads have done nothing but show the devices in action (in a quite abstract, definitely non-flashy manner). Droid/etc. ads have been little other than ploys to engage an emotional, almost primeval response.

    Keep up the good work. Reading your prose is entertaining!

  2. It will be great to see Google eat a heaping helping of humble pie (chart)!!

  3. @Nathan: Thinking a bit more about the phenomenon of attributing Apple’s success to “marketing”, I’ve come to the conclusion that critics fall back on the marketing/advertising excuse because they can’t explain Apple’s performance in any other terms. They can’t say that Apple makes better products, so in the vein of the “Reality Distortion Field”, they try to credit some sleight of hand trick. That might have had some traction in the “I’m a PC/I’m a Mac” campaign, where part of the schtick was the personification of “cool”, but I absolutely agree the iPhone/iPad ads are purely about what you can do with the devices. Consumers have always – and probably will always – grok what makes Apple’s offerings superior.

    Glad you enjoy my intermittent distractions. Hopefully Apple (and their detractors) will give me a lot to write about in 2011.

  4. @Tobias Tate: From your fingertips to God’s ears. The addition of Verizon as a carrier can’t happen soon enough. I work in NYC and AT&T is absolutely horrible.

  5. Wow, coming up with bull shit charts and taking it in the ass for Daniel. Nice one there.

    To be clear: am I taking in the ass as a proxy for Daniel i.e. taking it in the ass from someone on Daniel’s behalf? If so, who would I be getting it in the ass from?

    Or did you mean “taking it in the ass *from* Daniel”? When you don’t use prepositions correctly, it makes deciphering your truly meaningful comments a tad difficult.


  6. Actually dude, I’m not really a troll. Daniel does have a lot of good articles, and at least you admit this is a fanboy site.

    Have a nice day :)

  7. Great writing! I’m happy to find your blog.

    Oh, and be gentle with the Sprockkets, he is a very lonely girl.

  8. “Oh, and be gentle with the Sprockkets, he is a very lonely girl.”

    ‘Now you are asking for it!

    Don’t feed trolls dumbass.

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