In January we witnessed the battle of the Silicon Valley heavy weights: Apple vs Google. The iPad vs the Nexus One. To product launches. Two very different marketing strategies. One very clear winner.
So why did Google’s much touted innovation model fail so miserably when it went head to head with Apple?
I could say Google has discovered that Customers are more important than Traffic. But I’ve already covered that. I could say that Google has forgotten that you don’t need to own the platform to profit from the platform. After all Google is by far the most profitable web advertising company but up until it started investing in YouTubes and building Office style Apps it didn’t actually own a web property. It just profited from being the first company to successfully bring to market the revolutionary idea that the network (i.e. the Web) is the database. But what I want to look at is the difference between the two innovation models (Apple vs Google) and how Google can profit from the Nexus One experience in the future.
Bruce MacVarish informs us that in Apple’s innovation model “there are three evaluations required at the inception of a product idea: a marketing requirement document, an engineering requirement document, and a user-experience requirements document - Marketing is what people want; Engineering is what we can do; User Experience is how people like to do things“.
The reality is there is nothing innovative about Apple’s innovation model. It reads like Design 101. So much so that I suspect you’ll see this approach to innovation taught in every design school in America. Apple’s edge is its self belief and in its ability to execute its ideas better than its competitors.
“Internally, Apple barely acknowledges competition. It’s the company’s ability to think differently about itself that keeps Apple at the head of the pack” - Bruce MacVarish
Now let’s take a look at Google innovation model.
In 2003 Business Week provided us with a detailed analysis in How Google Grows…and Grows…and Grows . Back then Google had 5 “Golden Rules” that revolutionised how organisations thought about innovation. They were…
- The User Is in Charge
- The World Is Your R&D Lab
- Failures Are Good. Good Failures Are Better.
- Great People Can Manage Themselves
- If Users Come, So Will the Money
These rules evolved into the fail fast fail often freemium business model of the Web 2.0 generation. Where Plan A was getting bought out by Google and the industry flagship was another one of those now mythical Silicon Valley “game changer in garage” startups called YouTube.
However the problems with the Nexus One strategy are much deeper than that.
When this new generation of consumers choose a mobile handset they are not just choosing a mobile communications or gaming device. They asking themselves “who am I” and more importantly “who do I want to be?”. The phone is an expression of their personality. When it is on display in the public theatre its is saying to their peers “look, see, this is who I am”.
As one teenager put it when I asked them about the fate of the Nexus One vs. the iPhone. “It’s bad enough to being an iDouche! Who wants to be a total geek?”
What Google failed to comprehend before it set out to develop a handset was the mobile device design business is all about marrying industrial design and software smarts to deliver a unique and compelling fashion statement.
If Google is going to be successful in the Mobile Device market it is going to have to abandon its old web innovation model. It is going to have to start thinking and behaving like it’s in the Fashion Business.
Which brings me to the crux of this post: What Lady Gaga can teach Google about the Mobile Phone Business.
Lady Gaga, like David Bowie, Elton John, Kiss and Madonna before her, is first and foremost a fashion statement. She is all about delivering the complete package. Music and Image, Sight and Sound. Shock and Awe. Theater and Spectacle. Color and Form. Glamor and Exuberance. Lifestyle and Appeal
She knows she is in the business of keeping people guessing. So much so they want to discover what’s next. There is no Wisdom of the Crowds here. Lady Gaga is not really interested in how you react. It’s all about why you react. She knows she’s in the entertainment business and while you are looking at her she – not the competition – is making money.
Think Lady Gaga. Think Google. And you’ll understand immediately why the Nexus One never stood a chance when it went head to head with the iPad.
Think Lady Gaga. Think Google. And you’ll probably understand why, without the assistance of a Lady Gaga, Google doesn’t really have much of a future in the mobile device market.
Think Lady Gaga and Google working together to revolutionize mobile communications and I suspect you’ll have your iPhone killer.
Try reading Bruce MacVarish’s Guiding Principles of Apple Innovation alongside Victor Niederhoffer’s Lady Gaga: 10 Things We Can Learn . They make for an interesting comparative study. You may also enjoy the “deconstructionist” studies of the Lady Gaga phenomenon being undertaken by the Lady Gaga Journal.