I’m not alone in thinking that the rivalry to dictate the next few years of consumer tech is going to be between Apple and Google. Apple has a definite dominance over consumer cool, between the consumer Mac line and the iPhone/iPod. However, Google powers much of the Internet which makes Apple products worth using. Google is (as of now, anyway) the default search engine for Safari, both on the iPhone/iPod Touch and for Macs and PCs, and they have a nasty habit of providing awesome free apps that Apple tries to charge for. I’m sure some people love paying $99/year for MobileMe, with a Mac.com email address and everything, but I’m a big fan of Gmail, and I think most of the Internet probably agrees with me on that one.
While it’s a little strange to see how the two are going to compete when their only existing site of conflict is in smartphones (Nexus One/Android smartphones vs. the iPhone), the two of them are basically championing different ways of solving the fundamental problem of the Windows PC model that Microsoft left us with.
Dealing with Windows is, at its core, a pain in the ass. Think about your PC-owning experience up until now: if you’re a diligent PC owner, you’re regularly updating practically every app on your PC, carefully choosing whether to click a link in an email or not, and making all kinds of backups. Even when things are going well, you’re probably doing clean Windows installs once or twice a year. When shit goes wrong, you probably have only the barest idea of what is actually going wrong–whether you can fix it or not. If you don’t take it for granted, it’s pretty bleak.
If you disagree with that assessment, it probably means one of two things. Either A) you’re using a lot more web apps than you were four years ago, and/or B) you’re using a Mac.
Let’s start with B. While that hasn’t always characterized the Mac experience (I know this personally), the Mac OS X era and the switch to Intel has made Macs more stable, more compatible, and generally easy. Security is less of a worry, most of the core Apple-made apps don’t suck, and the old deal-breaker that plagued Macs–crappy cross-compatibility with the PC-dominated office world–is basically a nonissue. Say what you will about Apple’s authoritarian lockdown, it makes for a much more stable and predictable user experience, and the iPad/iPhone OS does a lot to show how compelling computing can be in Apple’s world.
On the other hand, if you’re still using a PC, things have still gotten a lot better–especially if you’re working with web apps, or “the cloud” more often than you were five years ago, which you probably are. Gmail is far less crash-prone and resource-intensive than Outlook or Mail. You still do lots of work in Microsoft Office, but Google Docs will do in a pinch–and since you switch between PCs fairly often, you find yourself keeping a lot of your work docs either in Google Docs or in a Dropbox
. Even your vast library of personal media (pictures, movies, music) has stagnated because your photos are on Facebook/Flickr/Picasa, your movies come from Hulu and Youtube, and your music comes from Pandora or Grooveshark.
Not only do these web apps tend to be more stable, they also make you more portable. Most of us will be inclined to take our cloud data’s security for granted, applications (outside of your OS and browser) are updated server-side, and as long as your password and your network are secure you don’t have to worry about a thing.
Apple tries to solve the Windows problem by controlling as many variables as possible: If you’re using Apple hardware and Apple software, you should be able to do whatever you need without hassle. Google simply asks your computer–any computer–to run a web browser, and it’ll handle the rest. Apple makes a $1000 laptop that feels like it’s worth $1000; Google makes pretty much any computer feel the same.
Personally, I’m throwing my hat in with Google, mostly because I don’t feel like paying $1000 for a laptop ever again. I’ve dropped too many of them.