You Can’t Do It All

May 24, 2016
3 minute read

At the original iPhone announcement, we saw Steve Jobs on stage with Google’s then CEO Eric Schmidt, showing off Google’s amazing Maps. Built for the iPhone, it was something we’d never seen before. Apple’s incredible phone and revolutionary software combined with Google’s terrific web services and data coming together for one amazing product. With regards to collaboration, it’s all been downhill from there. Since then, every tech company has focused on owning the whole experience.

Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook. These companies all excel at some things, and have attempted to leverage that into more. Apple understands user experience and hardware. Google gets web and machine learning like no other company. Amazon is the best at logistics and commerce. Microsoft’s productivity and enterprise know-how guides them to success. Facebook has little competition when it comes to figuring out consumer behavior.

In the mobile era, each of those companies has tried to make the widget, sell it, and reap all of its rewards. But this has never worked. Amazon bought a mobile mapping company. Apple has tried to copy Microsoft Office. Google has made not one but two OS’s, a social network, and probably eight messaging apps, I’ve honestly lost count. And the list goes on.

The Roman empire fell because it was too large to maintain (sure, there are other reasons too… but let’s move on). No company can be the best at everything, and the quicker some companies realize that, the more handsomely they will be rewarded with opportunities to partner with others.

In programming, we have the concept of the Unix philosophy. It’s the idea that you build a large and complex program by combining many single-task apps that do one thing, and do it well. Unfortunately that runs in contrast to what we’ve seen in the tech world, because that’s not what the landscape encourages. The Unix philosophy is as close as we’ve come to a successful implementation of distributism, and there’s no way that’s happening. We’ve seen it work with things like federated messaging and interoperating protocols, but none have lasted long enough before a company tries to create an integrated experience around open standards.

It’s hard for one company to excel at user experience, hardware, machine learning, web services, enterprise, social, and more, when each of those has different incentives, customers, and end users. If there’s anything that is Apple’s (or anyone’s) ultimate demise, it’ll be spreading itself so thin across what the company does, that they won’t be able to fight the war on all fronts.

As the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In the past we’ve seen companies partner together to take on one competitor. It’s not as black and white as Google hates Apple, and Apple hates Google. It can’t be when Google is paying a billion dollars to Apple every year to be the default search engine, and when iOS is more profitable to them than Android. It’s more like Apple uses Google when it’s opportune, and Google uses Apple when it’s in their best interest. Politics make strange bedfellows.

The only reason I’ve become a bit bearish (just a bit) on Apple is that they’ve yet to prove to me that they can own the user experience and have the expertise necessary to excel in all the domains they’re entering. But I’m a man who loves to be proven wrong, and they’re a company whose proven doubters wrong many times over.

Joe Fabisevich is an indie developer creating software at Red Panda Club Inc. while writing about design, development, and building a company. Formerly an iOS developer working on societal issues @Twitter. These days I don't tweet, but I do post on Threads.

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