The Apple Google Thing: Some Thoughts about a Phase Change

January 25, 2012

I have done a bit more thinking about the search-related implications of Apple’s first quarter 2012 results. Google remains dominant in search. But I am formulating the hypothesis that Google is now on a knife edge and may already have started to slide down search mountain.

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A happy quack to Net Giant.

Straight away let me say that Apple is happy with “good enough search.” I have had conflicting information about Apple’s apparent indifference to search and retrieval. If you want to locate a particular category of books in the iTunes’ online service, good luck. From its earliest days, the search function in iTunes has been less than satisfactory to me. But who cares? iTunes is part of the software fabric which Apple has woven right in front of Google’s, Amazon’s, and the entertainment industries’ snoots. Apple could not have been more upfront about search. Search is simply not Job One for an iTunes’ user. Why should it be? The service helps Apple generate revenues which have even the greediest MBA drooling.

I read “Apple’s Massive Numbers and Some Context.” My viewpoint is different, but I agree that something big has happened in the numbers and beyond. Here’s the passage I noted:

Towards the end of the earnings call, Tim Cook dropped a huge nugget of information: led by 15 million iPads sold last quarter, the tablet market is now larger than the entire desktop PC market. Someday in the not-too-distant future, the tablet market will be bigger than all of the PC market, he predicts. (Apple has sold 55 million iPads since the original launch in April 2010, Cook revealed.)

Need more proof? Read “Apple Reports First Quarter Results. Highest Quarterly Revenue and Earnings Ever. All-Time Record iPhone, iPad, and Mac Sales.” You can find many pundits, poobahs, and disinformationists explaining why Apple is generating so much dough, selling so many gizmos, and achieving at least momentarily the highest market capitalization in the history of greed.

But there’s an important aspect of these revenue figures which caught my attention. Here’s the point:

Apple has downsized, marginalized, and subordinated search across its range of products. Key word search is a desktop search service. The youth of the world has moved on.

Why is this important to me? Here are the reasons:

Search is now a tertiary operation. Top finding methods are apps. Then there are Web pages with exposed links or facets. Last is good old key word search. Yep, it is time to forget the search as the reason a person uses some type of electronic gizmo. I want to make a distinction between “findability” and “search”. Apple does a pretty good job of making information findable. Whether it is the native search function in OS X or the hot links scattered across Web pages and applications or mobile apps themselves, most folks regardless of age can make Apple machines work. Forget where a document is? Apple provides numerous “punch-the-button, dummy” options.

Users within the Apple ecosystem have a search option available, but the interfaces present options and inducements. The idea is that something catches the attention of the Apple customer and gets clicked. The interfaces are cluttered and confusing to a 67 year old like me. But to the content consumer the jazzy colors, the number of options, and the “hooks” like new music, books, free content, and other Madison Avenue methods generate loyalty and money. Big money. Remember to check those numbers in the Apple quarterly report. The profit is in the billions and bigger than most companies’ net revenue for a quarter. MBAs prepare to slaver.

The last idea I had is, “Google is now in a world of pain.” I know Google is a giant outfit, spending more on lobbying than even established outfits like pharmaceutical companies, and pushing forward on conflict-charged initiatives in the enterprise, mobile, social, and advertising. Integrating user information is a defensive announcement. A growing company just does what it does. Calling attention to Android phone sales and hard wiring Google Plus into basic services are flares that mark a problem.

Bottom line: Google’s peak was in my opinion, 2006-2007. Since then, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook have surged. And Google? The giant company is growing but other outfits are moving with less friction. One of them—Apple—has blown away analysts, customers, and competitors. Apple may implode, but for now, the Cupertino crowd seems to be in charge of devices and certain high value information.

Stephen E Arnold, January 25, 2012

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