Target Practice

Apple’s WWDC keynote had a different rhythm befitting the post Jobs post Facebook IPO world we’re in. Days after Larry Ellison’s wooden capitulation to the Cloud, the tech press could be forgiven for the pedestrian way they consumed the news. Ellison has clearly absorbed Marc Benioff’s script for the last 3 or 13 years, but made no attempt at challenging his protege’s style and passion. Tim Cook and his team relied on the power of their strategy rather than the stagecraft of the event.

Integrate Facebook. Check. Open Facetime to cellular. Check. Take Google Maps off the table as a disruptor. Check. Siri-fy push notifications, apps, driving, Twitter, Likes, @mentions. Check check check check check check. Set up iPhone 5 as the beneficiary of the new OS, the OS that kills Windows. Check.

How dumb was it for Google to withhold its turn-by-turn directions from iOS? They destroyed TomTom in the process and now it pops back up as the heart of Apple Maps. Now Google has to worry about Microsoft coming up behind them and knocking off a weakened search giant instead of failing to challenge the iPad as the core platform. Somebody forgot to remind Google that they achieved orbital velocity by teaming up with Apple on the iPhone. Microsoft hasn’t forgotten it.

I don’t want to overstate this Google is on the ropes thing, first because it is only partially true and mostly because nobody will lose here as much as others will win. But who are you gonna call when you’re betting on a platform: Apple, Microsoft, or Google? Microsoft has deep pockets, a global marketplace to lose (slowly), and a predatory scoop to mop up after Nokia, RIM, and other fading incumbents of a previous era. Google can’t pivot with Facebook or Twitter for that matter, and Apple just did.

Meanwhile, I sit here typing on a Bluetooth keyboard nestled neatly in a case propping up the new iPad, the closest thing to the new Retina Display MacBook announced on Monday. Not so slowly but surely, Apple is providing soup-to-nuts gestures and hardware around the push notification platform, wrapping the social moment in a warm embrace while Google contaminates its magic in a funk of not invented here stupidity.

Take the Google +1 buttons. As my colleague John Taschek illustrates, the software is magical the way it lets you get around the mysteries of Circles and send what is in effect a direct message with a citation. Click the button on a web site, a requester appears with live lookup of Google +mentions, click, click, beautiful. Now try it on The Platform. Fail. The argument surfaces: it’s about Javascript and pop-up windows, blah blah blah. Remember Flash? Now Adobe is in the rug business or something.

John Gruber says Apple is giving a big -1 to Google. Sure, but what’s worse is that Google is doing it to themselves even harder. It’s one thing to innovate on their own mobile platform, but then isolate themselves from the dominant viral form factor of the Age? Why choke their own aura of inevitability off by turning their enormous lead in the Cloud into a horse race? Google’s magic has always been about the realtime harnessing of interactive data, the coursing lifeblood of instant sentiment, crowd-sourced knowledge.

Not an easy technical challenge, but one that could become a barrier to entry for all but the most powerful competitors, the ones with existing business models that could be undercut by the approach. So it is that Microsoft competes with its own margins, or Oracle with its maintenance revenue. They keep themselves off balance. Meanwhile Google piled on the magic: Gmail with its Golden Goose never-empty storage, never a threat to Office but rather to Windows itself, Chrome the viral browser, and even now Gdrive as it subsumes the rest of Google’s Apps.

Clear sailing ahead, as long as they made their services available to all comers. Search worked precisely because it was the same everywhere. The iPhone succeeded in large part because Google was there. The iPhone survived because of the Web development hole in the architecture. Google was as much a part of the iPad’s success as any other element, by preserving the balance of power long enough to keep Microsoft at bay.

Then the media companies were dragged into the disruption, as readers and viewers migrated from a scheduled land-locked consumption model to one based on realtime social signals. The decision point became an evaluation of the value of the content based on its position in a priority queue. Should we stay on our portable device and keep up with breaking news, and if so, then plan our big-screen watching according to the quality of the series. Enter Mad Men, Downton Abbey, The Killing, even network shows like Revenge, House, and Grey’s Anatomy.

The long-form movie nature of these series created a class of users not unlike the record buying public of the Golden Age of Beatles, etc. where media began to be consumed in album bursts after the scattershot approach of Top Forty. The hard drive capacity of HD DVRs shifted archiving of shows to On Demand services, iTunes, and especially Netflix. Once we realized it was better to capture and wait than be tethered to scheduled cliffhangers, the die was cast. It doesn’t matter how fast cable-cutting matures; the transformation to a user-controlled broadcast schedule is a done deal.

What Apple is signaling with its WWDC announcements is an adoption of this Netflix/iTunes streaming model to the technology business. Built on push notification and the intersection of Siri, Maps, and AirPlay, the next season (iOS 6) begins in the fall, crescendoes with iPhone 5, and then accelerates with software (apps) that harvest the efficiencies and user comfort with the new media consumption model. Cars add buttons for directions, gas, food, group swarming around location-based deals for products, and authority-based recommendations on store-and-view media strategies.

Thanks, Google. Apple couldn’t have done it without you. Now the question is, will you jump back in and make it impossible to say no to your brand of services. It will take a certain humility that perhaps can only come from one of your founders (Brin). And you’ll need to reconnect with your troops, and by that I mean your customers, who surely are questioning the kinds of history rewriting around paid inclusion that make a mockery of earlier definitions of not doing evil. But you need to hurry up, as Apple takes every one of your selling points and tees them up with “there’s an app for that.”