Google and Apple offer a great experience and everything we could want in our phones. While that's a great recipe for success and happy customers, it also means they can afford to get a little lazy.
Now I'm not saying the people working there aren't busting their butts and worth their salaries, I'm talking about the company — and their mobile ecosystem (God I hate that phrase) — becoming complacent and less willing to try new ideas. New ideas are what drives technology forward. Every time a great idea fails, that's an opportunity for people to figure out why and to work on ways to ensure it won't fail the next time — the perfect example in recent memory is the idea of a "modular" phone.
A modular phone is a pipe dream. Project Ara kept scaling back until they announced its death, and the resurgence by others picking up the pieces won't be anything at all like the concept if it ever really happens. But a phone that had optional hardware you can add and remove at will didn't die: LG tried it. It flopped. Motorola is trying it and it's a little better. Eventually, someone will figure out a way to deliver a set of accessories and upgrades that we as consumers can add to a phone that doesn't have any suck factor attached. This is a great example of the people making the phones we love still trying. We need the companies controlling those ecosystems I hate to mention trying just as hard.
Five years ago, BlackBerry (then Research in Motion, the coolest company name ever) had started in its downward spiral, Microsoft was telling us how great stuff would be next year (some things never change), Apple was counting piles of money and Google was shaking everything up. They had to. Android was a perfectly usable (and fun to monkey around with) software platform for a phone, but it was a bit of a mess. People who are tech orientated and love to fiddle with settings were impressed at how powerful it was, but it lacked any polish. The only reason Android took the majority of the market was because companies were making super-cheap smartphones that brought the web and Google Play to anyone who had $100 to spend.
Sure, there were some great phones out there running Android, but most people who were buying expensive phones and had plenty of disposable income were buying Apple products. That made Google try harder. Five years later we see how Google, Samsung, Motorola, HTC and LG have transformed Android into a software package that can equal or exceed anything from anyone else when it comes to the user experience.
The mobile experience we love is a direct result of competition.
While that was happening, some really talented people at Apple were doing everything they could to keep the simple and user-first experience they're known for while adding some must-have features. When Google can offer better services and apps for an iPhone than Apple can, that makes people work hard. The motivation to keep making money starts at the top and the best way to keep making it is to have the right people thinking of — and trying — the right things. Apple Maps was fun to laugh at as long as it wasn't you being steered into the desert or off of a bridge, but Apple needed to do it, and anyone using it now can tell you it's a great service. Plenty of people with an iPhone still use Google Maps because they have years of data Google uses to turn a map into something more like a tour guide, but Apple Maps will soon catch up there, too. It has to.
But what about the next big thing? If we want the next YouTube or the next iTunes to be something awesome on our phones, we need people willing to try something besides what they know already works. Every quarter that goes by where sales look good, money flows in and sites like Android Central or iMore tell you how great the things we have are, the incentive to shake it all up lessens. Why take a chance when things look good? That great idea that came from Larry in engineering sounds kind of cool, but when the bosses and investors are happy with the status quo, why risk trying it? We will still be happy when things become stagnant if we have no idea they are stagnant.
The iPhone 7 and Google Pixel (as well as Android 7.1 in general) are the end result of companies filled with bright minds fighting for their place in the market. The market is set, Apple and Google have enough cash to buy paradise, and they no longer have to duke it out.
We need Microsoft to force Apple and Google to try harder.
If a third company with know-how in mobile were to start pouring money into the right thing, Google and Apple won't go there. Yes, right now, unless Derek Kessler and LG can revive webOS, that means Microsoft. It looks like Microsoft has all but giving up on selling Windows phones. Some people think otherwise, and there's always industry talk about what happens behind the scenes, but when you visit AT&T or Verizon (or Rogers or EE) you don't walk out with a Windows phone. When you visit Carphone Warehouse or Best Buy you don't see them. Windows phone does not exist right now. That's a bad thing.
On episode 312 of the Android Central Podcast, we were talking about money and companies who aren't making as much of it as they like. I said Microsoft needs to get with LG and make the shit out of Windows phones. Yeah, that got the reaction you imagine it would, but I was serious. We need Microsoft to find a partner bigger than just phones and set a goal to sell a billion Windows phones. If (when) they fail, both companies have huge incomes from other divisions and can absorb the losses. They can try again next year. Keep building them, keep working on the software and keep trying great new ideas until it works.
I want the phone I buy in 2018 to do things I never imagined.
That's exactly what Google and Samsung did. Google did what they could to help Samsung get Android into a billion phones. They weren't timid and didn't play safe. If you had a Samsung Galaxy S, you knew it was pretty damn different from anything we've seen before. Fast forward a couple years and the Galaxy S3 changed everything. And changed it for the better.
I want someone new to do it again. I want to see what Google can do when they have to fight to be the best again. I want the phone I buy in 2018 to do things I never imagined. And I want someone to come along and force it to happen.