Friday, May 30, 2008

It's Now All Down To Apple Vs. Google

Listen, Microsoft isn't even in this battle. Vista was a self-inflicted wound of such magnitude that the term Vistaster (think disaster with a V) has been coined. Microsoft only thinks it's still a factor. It's time, like Nokia's, has passed.

Palm is not a factor, either. No matter what it devises, it can't become a factor. ACCESS with its ACCESS Linux Platform was never a factor.

The epic battle is now between only two companies: Apple and Google.

The recent demonstration of the vastly revamped Android OS makes it clear that the intimidating geniuses formerly from Be, Inc. and PalmSource are intent on finally having a global Win. They're now with a company that has unleashed them.

Apple, of course, has the iPhone. And the iTunes Store. And Apple TV. And the iSDK. And the upcoming App Store. Its Macs. The iPod. And even possibly the iPod Air and a subnotebook Mac. Plus, let's not forget the custom chips -- probably including the memristor breakthrough -- that will allow Apple to do things competing companies can't. While everyone else buys off-the-shelf components that everyone else can buy, Apple can Build Different.

Google has its search engine, its spy satellite mapping, its ad revenues, Blogger, Picasa, and a whole slew of online things that I've not paid much attention to because they're all stamped Beta -- and also because they seem to announce something new every freakin week. They've also been busy with a syncing strategy (something Apple desperately needs). And to tie it all together in the outside world, Google now has the Android OS. Which has suddenly leaped ahead of both Windows Mobile and PalmOS. (Even the clunky early demonstrations on Small Square Screen prototype phones made it leap ahead of ACCESS. For Google actually had companies signed up for it.)

The Internet is going to be the new telephone. But moreso: the transfer of information and entertainment is something that the pre-computer telephone couldn't do. With music, photos, movies, and more transformed into digital data, the Internet has become sort of like Star Trek's transporter. What used to be thought of as things -- DVDs, books, magazines, newspapers, et al -- can now be instantly "beamed down" to a receiving device.

And the primary receiving device is going to be an Apple iPhone or a Google Android OS phone.

Google sees what Apple has been doing. Google will try to replicate that as much as possible. There's already rumors of an Android App Store. That's unsurprising.

There is really only one area that's still up for grabs and it will be interesting to see who jumps in first.

Because whoever jumps in first is going to set the standard.

The remaining area is ebooks.

I've called again and again for Apple to step up and embrace ebooks. Apple would give them the legitmacy they gave to music downloading. It's still unclear if Apple will do so. Apple most likely has been considering the same issues that Sony studied before it released its BroadBand eBook (BBeB) file format. For reasons other than ebooks, Cringely has called upon Apple to purchase Adobe. Such a purchase would immediately give Apple the ebook high ground.

On the other hand, Google has already been doing ebooks for years, but no one has really noticed that (other than David Rothman and a few other folks who specialize in covering ebooks -- well, also the libraries that have supplied the books!). Has Google's massive scanning of books been part of a long-term plan to capture that market in a way no one else has considered? They've already got libraries and libraries of books digitized. Forget what you see right now when they serve it up on a screen. All of those image files are, I'm sure, also in a text format of some kind, waiting to be poured by the jillions into whatever ebook file container Google creates or annoints. At some point, Google's ebook inventory is going to make Amazon's printed book stock look like a forlorn corner bookstore.

And here's where Google can snatch ebooks away from everyone else, legitimize them, as well as deliver them in a manner that is consistent with the alleged openness they claim their Android OS touts: embrace the ePub file format.

The ePub file format is designed to be used on virtually any kind of display device. Whether someone accesses an ebook over the Internet or has it in hand as a purchased item on a subnotebook or phone, ePub is the standard that permits that.

What Amazon offers with its Kindle is a proprietary format that Kindle owners can't even read on their desktop computers. Sony's BBeB is likewise proprietary but does allow ebooks to be displayed on a desktop or notebook computer -- but it's limited to Windows. What both Sony and Amazon count on are continued sales of their razors -- dedicated eInk reading devices -- and the continuing profits from the razor blades (ebooks). This is already an outdated and obsolete strategy. Prices have not dropped to the point of being an impulse purchase. And even though an iPhone and an upcoming Google Android phone can be just as expensive, both of those have more than a single purpose.

Amazon, Sony: Expecting people to buy a dedicated eInk reader for ebooks is like still expecting people to buy a CD Walkman to listen to music!

Apple already has its Internet access points out there: its hardware. Millions of iPods. Millions of iPhones -- with millions more to come. The probable iPod Air. But Apple is not the Internet. Apple is just its iTunes Store, its App Store, and whatever revamp of its .Mac service is unveiled next month. For Apple to spread out into the Internet, to challenge Google on its own turf, it will have to turn its stores into platforms that any merchant can set up. By doing that, Apple can relent on its standard pricing model and allow each merchant to catch hell for its own pricing.

Google already has the Internet in so many ways. It's just beginning to get its access points out there via phones running the Android OS. Don't, however, make the mistake of considering Android an operating system only for phones. It's not. I'm sure the frustrated geniuses have planned all along to extend Android into other types of hardware. Perhaps the first real "netbook" will be the one running Android OS -- deeply tied into everything that Google offers already (and in the future) on the Internet.

The future is going to be determined by these two companies for at least the next decade or two.

Which one of them is going to blink and reveal itself by grabbing the ebook prize?

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