Tech folklore abounds with examples of Steve Jobs’ monomaniacal focus on the user experience, including this tale on Jobs’ obsession with the Apple calculator widget. Other tech companies, especially Apple archrival Google, could use some of Steve’s legendary attention to detail – as shown in these seven examples where the company’s focus seems to have wandered a bit.
Google is known for its fantastically brilliant engineering talent. Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed the algorithms that made Google the king of the search engines, while Eric Schmidt offered “adult” supervision. But with three hands on the tiller, who is steering the ship?
That’s not an idle question. Even for successful projects, Google too often seems to reward the idea, not the implementation. These seven shortcomings among Google’s products – some monumental, others trivial – reveal a troubling lack of polish, especially compared to Jobs’ legacy at Apple.
Google’s I/O developers conference starts tomorrow, and the company may address some of these problems. Let’s hope so.
No. 1: No “Home” Navigation in Google Navigation
When Google introduced Google Maps Navigation in 2009, most people quickly realized that the days of the standalone GPS device were numbered. Google’s Android OS offered maps, turn-by-turn directions, even traffic – all for free. But Google has inexplicably ignored a central feature of GPS devices: the home location. When setting up a standalone GPS from Garmin or TomTom, the first question you’re asked is to set your home location. Not so with Google Maps. In fact, Google took three years, until May 15, 2012, to implement a home feature on the desktop version of Maps.
The problem? GPS is inherently a mobile application. But the “home” feature hasn’t carried over to Android, Google’s mobile OS. Sure, you can manually enter your home location each time. But you can’t use Google’s voice commands to “navigate to home” and expect to be directed home after a long night out in an unfamiliar city. Even starred “My Places” don’t seem to carry over from the desktop version of Maps to Android.
No. 2: Movies Rented on Google Play Can’t Be Watched on Google TV
Google TV has issues. Many, many issues. But one thing that sets Google TV apart from its streaming set-top siblings – and this is not a good thing, mind you – is that movies rented on Google Play cannot be watched on Google TV. They can be viewed on a tablet or a phone, but not on the beautiful HDTV across the room, powered by Google. That doesn’t mean you can’t rent a movie on Google TV. Of course you can. But – oops! – the only source to do so is Amazon. You know, the site that offers a competing Android app market? Meanwhile, services like Amazon, Vudu and Apple’s own iTunes provide better video rental services on connected TVs.
Google PR was kind enough to tell me in March that the Google TV movie playback problem was being worked on, and was scheduled to be resolved soon. Let’s hope that the Google Play updates rumored for Google I/O include this feature.
No. 3: Deep Google Drive Integration With Chromebooks
The Chromebook, which essentially lives and dies by the Web, has been a work in progress since the start. The Chromebook correctly anticipated the shift to the Web and native applications. But the Chromebook noticeably fails where local content is concerned; the local file manager is rudimentary at best, as is media playback.
Since the Chromebook connects to the Web, you can log in and download a file from Google Drive. But as a Web-centric product, the Chromebook demands integrated cloud storage, one that’s accessible via the operating system itself, rather than the Web interface. Google could try to challenge ultrabooks and the MacBook Air with a fast, compact computing device like the Chromebook. But it still isn’t quite there.
No. 4: Google’s Cloud Confusion
Score one for Microsoft’s SkyDrive. When I access cloud storage, my assumption is that I’m signing on to a Web-based repository of my files. Not so with Google Drive, or even Google+’s online photo repository. Put simply, Google wants to open and edit the document within Google Docs using its own format, even if Microsoft Word is the superior editor.
To be fair, “elroy999” explained Google’s perspective on the issue – at least from a Google Docs perspective – in great detail:
“Personally, upon just clicking a docx file in the browser, I wouldn’t mind a context menu that said: 1) View with Google Office, 2) Convert and edit with Google Office, 3) Download and edit with Word,” elroy999 noted. ”The way it is now, you have to remember to right-click and then ‘Open’ or ‘Download,’ navigating through all the other hyperbole on the context menu. Actually, I’d prefer just downloading the file and editing it upon a left-click.”
I also don’t like the fact that Google hides the “download full size” option to download a photo stored on Google+ via its automatic uploading feature, although I understand that Google+ prioritizes sharing, rather than downloading.
No. 5: Google TV Movie Services
Give Google credit: A day before Google I/O 2011, the company announced 3,000 additional movies that users could rent, including “blockbusters” like Inception. A year later, Google Play now competes well with rival movie services in terms of selection. But for all of its deep pockets, Google still hasn’t convinced streaming services, besides Netflix, to develop versions of their own apps for Google TV.
The best video streamers are the Roku boxes: They offer practically every streaming service under the sun, including premium offerings like HBO Go. By contrast, you have to dig through Google TV’s menus to access a Chrome-based version of HBO Go. When I tried it, though, it never quite managed to store my credentials twice in a row, forcing me to log in each time. The last thing anyone wants to do while watching video is enter a password.
No. 6: Inconsistently Stored Searches
Searches with obvious news value, such as “Barack Obama,” generate a few relevant news stories in the list of results. But sometimes I’d like to learn more about “tomatoes,” for example, while browsing other portions of Google’s site. If you search for “tomatoes” within the Search portion of Google’s site, then click on the Images tab, the search term “tomatoes” carries over. Ditto for YouTube. But if you then click on “News,” you’re forced to retype the search term, as you must also do for Google Play.
Granted, this is a bit trivial and probably affects journalists like me more than the general public. Still, it’s an annoyance built into Google’s’ flagship product: search.
No. 7: Android@Home – What and Where Is It?
Last year at Google I/O, one of the more intriguing Google announcements was Android@Home: a proprietary wireless network designed to connect wireless speakers like Google’s “Project Tungsten,” a potential Sonos competitor. But Lighting Science, which gave me the original scoop, has gone dark: References to Android@Home have disappeared from the site, and Eric Holland, vice president of electrical engineering at Lighting Science, referred me to Google when I asked for an update.
There have been rumors of a so-called “Google Entertainment System,” a wireless version of Google TV optimized for games slated for introduction at Google I/O. Let’s hope so, or Android@Home could end up being just another piece of Google technology consumers will never see.
Steve Jobs image courtesy of Shutterstock.
We’re well into the post-Steve world, but then Steve Jobs was never the main focus of news from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which will take place June 11-15 in San Francisco, California. Rather, product announcements – the things will that define the coming year for the “Apple Cores” who hang on every move the company makes – usually garner the main share of attention. That’s definitely the case this year, and we’re readying our up-to-the-minute coverage of WWDC’s Monday kickoff with a video preview and a look at what to expect as WWDC shifts into high gear.
ReadWriteWeb’s Dan Frommer will be filing reports throughout Monday’s events. He has already tipped the major expected news to look for: version upgrades for both iOS and Mac OS (and more blurring of the lines between the two with the introduction of iOS 6 and OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, respectively), new Mac models, tighter Facebook integration with iOS, and Apple TV-related product news. And iCloud remains a developing, major Apple-related topic that will continue to affect every move the company makes in the next few years.
Those are the main themes, but Apple’s parade of likely announcements is likely to include a good deal more: A developers’ kit for Apple TV-related apps may be in the offing. The Siri voice command technology that has thrilled and baffled iPhone 4S users should find its way to the iPad. And at least some of those new Macs will sport the amazing Retina display that was introduced on the newest iPad.
Nonetheless, the real fun of WWDC is in the surprises that CEO Tim Cook and his troops may have in store. Cupertino hasn’t sprung any unintended leaks since Jobs’ death last fall, so it’s entirely possible that the conference will reveal something unexpected. Rest assured that we’ll tell you about it the moment we find out. Meanwhile, check out our video coverage and stay tuned.
Founding your startup with your closest buddy might seem like a dream scenario. Here’s how to keep it from turning into a nightmare of dashed hopes and broken friendships.
“We should start a business doing (fill in the blank)!”
Who hasn’t brainstormed with their friends trying to come up with the next great million-dollar idea? It’s easy to find inspiration when you’re hanging with a close friend (maybe downing some beers) and since you both see eye-to-eye on almost everything, you can change the world together… right?
Not so fast.
In reality, as you’ll quickly learn if you actually do start a business with a buddy, the personality flaws that are so easy to overlook in a friendship may take on a whole new level of importance when it’s your livelihood on the line.
But when it’s good, of course, it can be really good. “You’re around each other all the time so it’s easy to bounce ideas around and quickly act on them,” says Go Overseas founder Andrew Dunkle, 27. Dunkle and friend Mitch Gordon, 33, started their online travel community business in 2009 after they met teaching English in Taiwan, and realized there was a clear gap in quality online information about various overseas programs (teach, study, volunteer, etc.).
“Mitch saw this as an opportunity to build a successful business, and I came on to offer technical support,” Dunkle explains. “We started work on the project in Taiwan before relocating to Berkeley, Calif., so Mitch could pursue an MBA.”
Of course, on the downside, acknowledges Dunkle, “You’re around each other all the time.”
Building a buddy business
That’s why it’s especially important to keep the lines of communication open. According to psychologist Sharon Lewis-Bultsma, Psy.D., the trick is to be able to maintain relationships, because when business is done, your business partner is still your friend. “People often anticipate how others will react to situations, making assumptions that may or may not be true, and respond accordingly,” Lewis-Bultsma says. This is especially common in a buddy business where there is a previous relationship.
No matter how close you are, draw up a partnership agreement. “Put everything down on paper right away,” Gordon urges. “You’ll both be happier in the long run, and you won’t have to worry about the legal stuff. Don’t assume it will be OK because you’re friends, and you trust each other. I’ve seen things go wrong for those who don’t [create an agreement].” If one partner wants to leave, retire or sell his share of the company, what happens? Put it in writing from the start to avoid dealing with sticky issues.
Steven Grant and Richard Cook (both 36) have been best friends since they met at Canterbury Nursery School in Wakefield, Mass., when they were 3 years old. They both studied philosophy in college and their relationship included all kinds of talks, from philosophical to silly. One day, they were arguing over how far the average person would go for a $20 bill. Steve claimed that if he announced he put $20 somewhere, people would search for it. Rich was skeptical, so Steve put it to the test. He hid a $20 bill in a book in the local library, took a picture of it, and posted its location on Facebook. Within 90 minutes, a friend stopped by to see if it was for real. She found the $20, posted her own picture, and a new business idea was born.
Since Plenty of Twenties launched in September 2011, the site has gone viral and given more than $6,000 to perfect strangers by hiding $20 bills all over the country. Businesses take advantage of the hype by sponsoring the hidden $20s – and get an insanely low-cost marketing boost in return.
As far their lifelong friendship goes, “This has been a completely positive experience for me, with little or no negatives,” Grant says. “It hasn’t hurt our friendship. If anything, it’s strengthened it. We’re candid with each other in our friendship and with Plenty of Twenties.”
Of course there are always disagreements: “We disagree all the time! But we listen to each other, and we’re each willing to relent if we sense we’re wrong, or if the other person feels very strongly about a particular point. Trust and money are nonissues, we’re too good of friends,” Grant says.
Grant’s advice for other buddies starting a business together: “Be honest with each other to a fault. Be prepared to endure bad news, frustration, even failure. Don’t point fingers. Things may be great and promising now, but what about when the going gets tough?”
And don’t forget to have fun. Says Grant, “Make sure you always remain friends who run a business together, not business partners who also happen to be friends.”
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Introducing ReadWriteWeb’s DeathWatch: highlighting businesses and technologies tottering on their last legs. Each week we’ll examine a vulnerable company, check for a pulse and look at its chance for a miracle recovery. We wish it wasn’t so easy to choose the inaugural DeathWatch victim, but BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion has not had a good week. Or a good year.
Research In Motion (RIM) designs, manufactures and markets the BlackBerry line of smartphones, the PlayBook tablet, and various device-specific operating systems and applications. The company tends to focus on business users, and its mobile administration and management tools earned it a following in large IT departments.
The smartphone market that RIM created grew up and passed it by.
RIM was first to the game, which helped it jump to a huge lead, and it amassed legions of fans based on features like physical keyboards and unprecedented access to corporate IT departments with robust security and management tools.
Nothing can touch it” as a slogan for its first touchscreen), RIM assumed its foothold in corporate IT was unassailable.But with the release of the iPhone and the rise of Android, BlackBerry devices became less than cool. Still, even as it stumbled with product delays, poor consumer interfaces and misguided marketing (reportedly considering “
That assumption proved incorrect.
As iPhones and Androids became more popular among consumers, they increasingly worked their way into corporations, causing BlackBerry sales to slump in developed markets. On May 29, RIM warned of a Q1 operating loss, predicted more job cuts and announced that it had engaged bankers to perform a strategic review. All signs point to stripping down the company for a fire sale.
this snooze of a video shows, he’s not exactly Steve Jobs (or even Tim Cook) when it comes to driving excitement and confidence. While Heins has been with the company for several years (as COO of Product Engineering), he’s new to the big stage, having been promoted to CEO in January. His COO and CMO, the two people directly responsible for developing and selling new products, joined the company earlier this month. President and CEO Thorsten Heins definitely knows a lot about technology (he was CTO at Siemens Communications prior to his arrival at RIM), but as
Moving past the people who got RIM into trouble was clearly necessary, but the newbies face a steep learning curve and not much time to effect a turnaround.
RIM is terminal. The company is toast, but it could be a long, slow death.
In his May 29 update, Heinz predicted that RIM would increase its cash on hand beyond the $2.1 billion with which it ended in 2011. With the right cuts and that kind of money, coupled with 78 million users and a growing user base in developing nations (albeit with cheaper products than those sold in the U.S.), RIM could hang on for several years.
The Blackberry 10 OS won’t change the world, but it’s years more modern and consumer-friendly than its predecessors. Best-case scenario, it staunches the bleeding, slows the erosion of RIM’s domestic user base and buys a bit more time.
That’s not likely to be enough, though. As Morgan Stanley’s Ehud Gelblum suggested in a May 30 analyst note, RIM will probably be torn apart and sold, with its collection of wireless patents the prize amidst the wreckage.
Can Anything Save It?
RIM is hanging its hopes on its long-delayed Blackberry 10 operating system, but a new OS (even a good one) will not be enough to excite app developers or mainstream consumers.
If RIM could decouple its hardware business to focus on secure, business-oriented mobile applications and management tools, a vastly scaled-down company might be able to thrive. But dramatically shrinking a huge public company – and a Canadian jewel – is likely to be very difficult even if RIM could find a buyer willing to pay a reasonable price for its cratering device business.
The software venture that switched to a dog-walking service. The dating site that morphed to data storage. The e-commerce play that transformed itself to make board games. We’ve seen them all.
Actually, we’re lying. We just made them up. But you get the picture: There are times in the life of a startup – especially in its early life – when change is necessary.
“A startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a scalable and repeatable business model,” explains Steve Blank. “It’s the search for product-market fit. You don’t have a company until you can figure these things out.”
Blank is the author of “Four Steps to the Epiphany” and “The Startup Owner’s Manual.” He’s been around Silicon Valley since 1978 and has founded or worked with eight tech startups, four of which went public. He currently teaches entrepreneurship at Berkeley, Stanford and Columbia. (He’s also been known to write for ReadWriteWeb.)
In the wake of Instragram’s billion-dollar pivot, Blank talks about why the concept is crucial to the success of so many startups.
You can’t possibly be right
“A pivot is a substantive change to one or more business model components,” he says. “You start with all these guesses about your company: Who are the customers? What is the product? What is the channel? What is the revenue model? Etc. But there’s no way all your guesses are going to be right. Figuring out all these things on day one is computationally impossible. So if your guesses [cannot all be] right, how do startups succeed?”
By evolving. Guess, test and adjust. And the vast majority of entrepreneurs who are not Steve Jobs adhere to it. “In a few cases, you might be right to stick to your guns if you see something that others don’t,” Blank says. “In that case, you’re a visionary. But in most cases, you’re just hallucinating.”
For example, you build a Web app, you love it and assume other people will love it. But don’t go from there to production. First, find out if other people actually do love it.
“Translate your passion into hard numbers,” Blank says. Send emails to 100 friends and see how many like your product. If nobody likes it, the next question is, do you need to pivot?
“The answer for me is that a pivot is required when you’ve exhausted all your possibilities for minor changes. ‘We tried it in pink, we tried it in yellow… holy shit! They might just hate the product.’”
Pivot, but don’t flail
But keep in mind that a pivot takes a lot of thought and planning. “One thing young entrepreneurs do is confuse ‘I changed my mind today’ with the pivot,” Blank says. “If you’re doing a pivot a week, that just means you’re flailing.”
So follow these steps to startup success. Launch your company, pivot toward the mass market, get acquired and go shopping for a tropical island…Not so fast.
“When to pivot is still an art and will always be an art,” Blank says. “We can tell you the process and how to run tests. But it’s like teaching you how to paint. We can tell you about perspective, how to mix colors, but we can’t teach you how to paint The Last Supper.”