The Great Google Goat Rodeo

17 May 2013

After the marathon keynote at I/O last week, It shouldn’t be surprising to see this kind of reaction from people who use any of Google’s products. For users, the keynote didn’t offer much to get excited about, save for the announcement of a pure Google Galaxy S4. Sorry guys, this wasn’t about you and that’s actually a good thing.

Instead, the company chose to highlight what it has been doing to make Android and Chrome more accessible to developers. When companies take this approach, the results tend to speak for themselves. In particular, 2 examples come to mind: Mac OS X 10.6 and Windows 7. Each of these releases benefited from the fact that Apple and Microsoft didn’t try to build even more new features on top of what they already had. They refined and iterated on existing ideas and fixed many longstanding problems for both users and developers. The reaction? Both systems were adopted relatively quickly and are still in active use today.

Despite this commitment, Google also continues to exhibit a lack of focus. A fact that is not lost on Wunsch as he takes a broader view of Google’s current product portfolio:

Google has a problem. The problem is that nobody says no. Google effectively owns the Web, and they’re lousy managers.

The idea of 20% time might be awesome and give employees the freedom to build their dream product, but very few of these ideas will go on to the heights that Gmail has risen to in the past 9 years.

“Real Artists Ship” - Steve Jobs

The result of this hands-off approach is that some projects languish for a long period of time and when they are eventually killed off, the users lash out (See Google Reader). Judging from their performance, Google is working on improving their record here, trying to focus the company’s attention on only a few things at a time. Time will tell how successful they will be.

At the same time, I wonder if this kind of shift in thinking from Google means that Apple can finally take the time to give iOS the “Snow Leopard treatment.” With Mac OS X as a guide, one would have expected iOS 6 to reflect this kind of thinking. As we now know, iOS 6 brought more new features - some welcome, others not - so we continue to wait. Although, it is telling that Mac OS X 10.6 continues to see software updates nearly 4 years after its release.

Thinking about it, this isn’t surprising, as Snow Leopard brought many overall improvements for both users and developers. A quote from the Ars Technica review of Mac OS X 10.6 sums this approach up nicely:

The overall message from Apple to developers was something like this: “We’re adding a ton of new things to Mac OS X that will help you write better applications and make your existing code run faster, and we’re going to make sure that all this new stuff is rock-solid and as bug-free as possible. We’re not going to overextend ourselves adding a raft of new customer-facing, marketing-friendly features. Instead, we’re going to concentrate 100% on the things that affect you, the developers.” - John Siracusa

I’ll admit, part of my desire to see this kind of change in iOS stems from the fact that the Mac has been less worthy of Apple’s attention in recent years, but the benefits of an internals-focused update are clear. Developers and their users benefit from a well-conceived and more refined product, one that is better positioned for the future.