Google Isn't Targeting iPhone Users; It's Targeting Everyone Else (Maybe)
from the jump-in dept
There are plenty of stories today about the not-so-secret “Google Phone” known as the Nexus One (assuming no silly legal issues get in the way) was finally “officially” announced. There wasn’t much surprise at the announcement, other than the fact that Verizon Wireless is expected to get the phone in the spring as well, meaning that there’s a CDMA version out there somewhere. Nearly every story about the phone has played the paint-by-numbers game of asking “is this an iPhone killer.” To be sure, the Nexus One (which I have had a chance to play with) is extremely iPhone-like. But pitting it head-to-head against the iPhone may be the wrong way of thinking about it.
As he often does, Bill Gurley cuts through the clutter to make a really strong point. The iPhone and its closed system were designed for the top of the market only. Google isn’t necessarily looking to compete with the iPhone or take users away from the iPhone — it’s looking to attract the market of “everyone else,” for whom the Nexus One (or other Android Phones) represents a huge upgrade over what they have:
The iPhone does exist, and it is wildly popular. There are an estimated 55 million iPhones in use around the world. Despite this remarkable success, history will also show that Apple intentionally chose a business model with plenty of room for disruption underneath its pricing structure. It also chose a single carrier as a partner, which resultantly threatened others. Then Google built a product and a strategy that allayed the carrier’s relative fears. Google gave them what they wanted, and then even gave them money. It could afford to do this because Google aims solely to protect the great business they already have in advertising, not to make money directly from the product (HW or SW in this case). Microsoft Windows, Internet Explorer, and Mozilla’s Firefox represent choke points on the personal computer whereby Google could lose search share, or at least be forced to pay a toll. In mobile, they see a chance to potentially eliminate the toll-takers.
With a business model that allows for much broader distribution and price points that are well beneath the iPhone, Google’s Android won’t compete directly with the iPhone. For the iPhone loyalist, like Stewart Alsop who railed against Android, Android is simply not an option. This price insensitive user demands the very best experience they can possibly have and this is still the iPhone. Users won’t switch in mass from the iPhone to the Android. It’s the other 3.95 billion cell phone users that are highly likely to consider Android a step up from their current feature phone. The Android strategy results in phones at much lower prices with much more diversity which will hit a broader set of demographics. Apple can and will quintuple its current market share and still have a small portion of the overall cell phone market.
This is why the two products do not compete head to head. With its super aggressive model, Android will be the choice of the masses, and with its sleek design and non-compromising price point, Apple will rule the high end.
While I think Gurley overplays the claim that the Android strategy results in “phones at much lower price points,” since that hasn’t happened yet, there are a number of good points raised in this article. In many ways it goes back to the discussion we had a year and a half ago about the differences between open and proprietary strategies. The closed, proprietary, “walled garden,” strategies have advantages in brand new markets — no doubt. They are less chaotic, more user friendly and simply easier to grasp for many. But, in the long run, the open solutions almost always win out. The solutions that allow others to jump in and add stuff, change stuff or make stuff better. It may take some time, and the lead time for the proprietary solution may seem insurmountable, but overtime, the more open solution almost always wins out. Remember when AOL and its walled gardens were going to dominate the “open” internet? It seems likely that the same thing may play out in the mobile space.
The second point that I think is key is the recognition that Google has the opportunity to play a bit of business model jujitsu against competitors with Android, noted in this sentence: “It could afford to do this because Google aims solely to protect the great business they already have in advertising, not to make money directly from the product (HW or SW in this case).” This is a point that we discuss in a variety of different business markets. It’s why we think that those who understand how to embrace the difference between scarce and infinite goods have a huge advantage. If you can make money by giving away a product for free that some legacy business relies on charging for — and then making your money up in an ancillary market (made bigger by giving your product away for free), then you have a massive advantage to disrupt the market.
The problem, however, with Gurley’s post is that it isn’t clear that Google is actually doing any of this. As noted, the pricing on the Nexus One is hardly revolutionary, and seems quite standard. Gurley is right that Google with Android has an opportunity to do something disruptive, but it’s not clear it’s there yet.