This is what it’s come down to:
1. The open web is only as open as its benevolent dictators allow it to be.
2. We are all Sophie and we must make a choice.
3. Poor AOL (er, I mean Aol.) can’t catch a break. Had a wall when walls were decidedly un-cool. Tore it down and a few years later walls are all the rage again courtesy of digital overlords Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg.
As Michael Hirschorn confirms in his latest piece in The Atlantic, the open web is, in fact, an illusion; closed is the harsh reality.
The shift of the digital frontier from the Web, where the browser ruled supreme, to the smart phone, where the app and the pricing plan now hold sway, signals a radical shift from openness to a degree of closed-ness that would have been remarkable even before 1995. In the U.S., there are only three major cell-phone networks, a handful of smart-phone makers, and just one Apple, a company that has spent the entire Internet era fighting the idea of open (as anyone who has tried to move legally purchased digital downloads among devices can attest). As far back as the ’80s, when Apple launched the desktop-publishing revolution, the company has always made the case that the bourgeois comforts of an artfully constructed end-to-end solution, despite its limits, were superior to the freedom and danger of the digital badlands.
Look, I don’t think the browser is going away any time soon, but someone always has the power in a relationship. When it comes to technology, media and communication, it’s not us. I repeat: We are not running this show.
Which CEO got people to camp out overnight to buy a product sight unseen? Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
Which CEO runs a company that was “inadvertently collecting data about people’s online activities from unsecured Wi-Fi networks” over the past four (FOUR!) years? Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
It’s all coming down to a choice between Apple and Google. They are already far along the path to dominate our every interaction with media and information. Sure, Mark Zuckerberg has the big murky moat around Facebook Island, but it’s contained. We can choose to live with or without Facebook. With Apple and Google, that choice is not as clear-cut.
Apple and Google both have mobile operating systems — Apple’s iPhone OS 4 vs Google’s Android. They both develop, build and distribute devices for their own platforms. They’re both in the advertising business — Apple’s iAd vs Google’s AdMob, to start. They’re both also in the app-etizing business:
Like Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes App Store and Google’s (GOOG) own Android Market, the Chrome Web Store will showcase free and paid videogames, magazines, productivity apps and the like. As Web applications, they’ll run on most modern browsers. But if you happen to be running Chrome, you can “install” the apps directly in the browser so that they can be accessed via a sort of “super-bookmark.”
All this before we even get to TV. If video killed the radio star, then Apple and Google are going to kill video. Pay attention, because television as we know it is dead. The concept of a television set is history; it’s now just another (bigger) screen in your house. Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt understand that one of our most important relationships is with the screen — small, medium or large, mobile or docked. This is the relationship they want to control. They want to be by our side every time we touch a screen: anytime, anywhere, any way.
This is why I say it’s pretty clear Apple and Google are courting me. Obviously they each want to build a future with me. They’ve both managed to create an experience that strategically leaves me unfulfilled with a simple flirtation. Oh, I can have a casual encounter with Apple or Google products and see all the possibilities and potential but I have to actually commit to really get what I need. They want me to commit, to share my personal information so they can lock me in, take me off the market. It’s not even dating, really, more like a common-law marriage because once I choose between Apple and Google, that’s it. I’m in it for the long haul. Who wants to go through that break-up drama, trying to save and export data, having to go back into that confusing scene to try to find a better match and then having to start all over again with the settings and preferences and the getting-to-know-you routine.
Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt are the controlling forces here, they are establishing how these relationships work and how they and their respective companies will benefit from consumer acquiescence. Factor in their personal rivalry, and the stakes are high. Think about how often you interact with a screen each day. Google and Apple are truly our significant others.
I know I can juggle them for only so long, but I am not yet sure who will win my affections. Apple focuses on fewer things but pays attention to every detail. Google is more experimental but typically skips the finishing touches, the last 20% that puts some polish on rough edges. With Apple, you’re in for elegance, style and whimsy. With Google, you’ll have wide-ranging experiences but have to carry your own bags and at some point end up sleeping in one of those Google Street View cars.
And where does Mark Zuckerberg fit into all this?
Seriously, we’re just gonna be friends.
Facebook is the BFF for more than 400 million people around the world. Zuck’s got his hooks in us and he’s got our data, but he’s platform agnostic so he can play the field with both Google and Apple.
In the end, that may make him the best catch of all.