Tech Horoscopes, 2012
An overview on the current race towards absolute social…everything (web, commerce and entertainment)
Apple - Winning the battle, not the war, and not even that for long
Apple is in an arms race of hardware and patents that can only be won by a series of consistently correct tactical decisions as well as maintaining organizational superiority. In other words, because Apple’s victory can only be tactical, it does not have a strategic advantage. Apple’s acumen with generating fanaticism is limited to its ability to create real technical differentiation. However, open source software and second-tier hardware will gradually but effortlessly creep over all of Apple’s territory in the same way that it has already gained a plurality of the industry ( Android: 42%, Apple: 28% – Source). In years past, and in a different category, being first and a pioneer would lead to domination (Xerox, Kleenex, Coca-Cola over Pepsi, Nike over Reebok). Now, however, pioneers act more as door men for smaller, more agile innovators (or Tweakers, according to Gladwell) and consumers are infinitely more concerned with value than brand. Consumers are on board with Apple’s benevolent dictatorship only as long as it yields the best product around. That battle will become increasingly difficult to win.
Google - Set to win but squandering its advantage
Google is currently floundering under its own bloated weight and dry, cutesy culture, which, I would assert, is the result of its pursuit of hyper-academic and hyper-technical talent. This has led to the release of several deplorable products like Wave, Buzz and Google+, all of which are crafted like the space shuttle but are completely out of touch with real, visceral human experience. Had a few humanities majors been thrown into the mix on these projects, they may have had some real social impact. That said, each of these failures has been fervently (albeit, unsuccessfully) embraced by the mass of early adopters who lust after Google’s far superior, quantitative approach to user experience, functionality and simple design. I would argue that this blind brand faith far surpasses that of even Apple at this point. Google has hundreds of failures left before its actual image is destabilized. Apple has about two.
Google, however, is, I would argue, closest to the pipe dream of absolute social…everything (web, commerce, entertainment) through a distinct combination of Circles, +1 and Google Places. To explain, think about which friends of yours you trust most for music recommendations, which ones you trust for political information, which ones know the best restaurants, which ones buy the coolest clothes and which ones buy the coolest gadgets. With these five circles (are you starting to get the picture?) of friends/experts you can see almost the entire future of what the greatest social Internet technology company will provide: a social guide to everything you buy and consume (recorded by +1), organized by location (Google Places) and curated by your trusted sources (Google Circles, within Google+). Google simply has yet to realize this potential.
Facebook - A permanent but irrelevant fixture
Facebook suffers from the same nerd-based detachment from human desire that Google does, but in a less fatal way. Honestly, who cares if Facebook makes a few questionable UX decisions, while simultaneously maintaining one of the most incredible feats of data storage and processing power ever imagined. That said, there is a fatal flaw with it’s approach: it seeks to foster dependence, not provide value and because of this, it’s brand is disposable. Right now 800 million people are dependent on Facebook as a master address book and a photo archive. Beyond that, as a business, it can be chalked up to a mildly successful advertising platform and data farm. As such I would predict that if Facebook changed its name to “Cinder Block”, it would cause quite a media stir and create a helluva user-experience obstacle for people like my grandma (who, relatedly, signs her name on wall posts because that’s what you did with hand-written letters) but within two months the site would be pretty much back to normal. Interestingly enough, if Facebook were to embrace this brand irrelevance and truly become the decentralized facilitator of social…everything, it would steal the number one spot from Google. But this would be the equivalent of attempting to become something as invisible and essential as fiberoptic cable. And, as I’ve said before, the logical conclusion of the new-age, non-corporation, corporation (wikipedia, Facebook…etc.) is that, if it does what’s best for it, it will decentralize, democratize and ubiquitize itself into oblivion. The question of corporate philosophy will become one of political theory. Will Facebook’s Anarcho-syndicalism, Google’s Communism, or Apple’s Totalitarianism triumph in the end? That depends on your general stance on the works of Marx, Kant, Hobbes… etc. In other words, philosophers are more [obviously] important and relevant to the progression of society than ever.