Nate Weiner

This is an old archived post from my former blog The Idea Shower. It's where I cataloged my product explorations and releases, one of which ultimately became Pocket.

This post was published back in 2012. It may not function as originally intended or may be missing images.

Hardware vs Knowledge

July 16, 2012

A few weeks ago I was watching the keynote at the Google IO. They were demoing Google Now. This is where they took all of the little pieces of data they knew about you – like where you lived, where you worked, what topics you searched for – and started actually making that stuff useful. For example, Google Now knows how long your commute is and gives you an alternate route when you walk out the door if traffic is heavy. It knows whether you ride the bus or drive a car. It knows what sports teams you follow just based on what you’ve searched for in the past.

While borderline creepy, it was the first time I felt like Google was starting to actually use all the data they know about us in a relevant way. Hell, we all know they have this data about us. I remember laughing when, at the time of Pocket’s series A, Google Ventures requested information on my previous addresses and employers as part of a background check. My response was: Don’t you know this already?

This was the first time I had been to Google IO and the first IO keynote that I had seen. The last time I was in the Moscone Center was Apple’s WWDC keynote in 2010 where they announced the iPhone 4. During Apple’s keynote there was one piece of data they flaunted, like they do every year: The bajillion credit card numbers they have on file.

I kept thinking of that figure as I sat and watched the Google Now presentation. Apple has your credit card, but here Google was stating very simply: We have your entire life.

Ultimately the story of iOS vs Android is one of a hardware company becoming a knowledge company vs. a knowledge company becoming a hardware company.

Steve Jobs famously complained about Android “We did not move into the search business”. But now Apple has to. “Search” is not about search engines. It is about knowledge and being able to instantly deliver that knowledge on demand. This is something that is becoming more and more important to a connected experience. Siri showed that Apple recognized this. But even with Siri, Apple still has an incredibly long way to go to become a knowledge company. Right now they have to rely on third parties: Siri is entirely based on third parties like Wolfram Alpha and Yelp. Contrast this with Google where they were able to power Google Now from their own data.

Another prime example of this is the new Maps app in iOS6, which completely dropped the use of Google Maps data. In order to do this, Apple had to build their own solution. As a consequence, they dropped transit and walking directions from the Maps app. However, on Google’s side, they have transit, walking, traffic and even biking data all within their own system and can use it to build a really rich, seamless experience like they did in Google Now.

On the other side, Google has a ways to go towards building the type of hardware that Apple can produce. Every one of the major Android devices have been built by manufacturers like Samsung and HTC. Not Google. Even their new flagship tablet, the Nexus 7, has a big ASUS printed on the back. Compare this to Apple where they build and meticulously control every piece of hardware that runs iOS and Mac OS.

Both Google and Apple have their work cut out for them, Google has an enormous amount of work to do to become a hardware player that operates on the level that Apple does. Likewise, Apple has to move mountains to ever have the data set that Google has created. Both are massive undertakings for each company but both are going to be incredibly important to their success.