Apple, Android, and Your Living Room

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Scott Litman, Magnet 360 Managing Partner

If you’ve read my posts, or heard me speak, you know I’m fascinated by the future of all media.  And so is my brother.  Scott Litman is a leader in the marketing community, Managing Partner of Magnet 360, co-founder of the Minnesota Cup, and the best businessman I know.  So, we’ve decided to share some thoughts about the battle between Apple and Google, and its impact on the future. Interestingly, Scott has used iOS since day one of the iPhone, and I have used Android since the day Google launched the G1, so we have some useful experience with these platforms.  And much like our collaboration on Major League Baseball’s poor video distribution model, we hope you find our ideas insightful.

Battle brewing

It’s hard to miss the battle that’s playing out on our TV screens, the high-profile showdown between iPhone and Droid.  But while it’s easy to get caught up in commercials about coverage maps, and who has the most apps, this is quickly becoming the tech war of our times.  And even though it’s currently limited to phones, it will soon enough be full-on, with tablets and in the living room.

And while the living room today gets the least attention, it may be the most important and decisive area – because once a winner is established there, it will flow backwards to phones, tablets, and every other way we consume data and media, because there is tremendous value when all of your devices are completely in synch.  And once that connection is established, users reinforce it by continuing to purchase products  (and content) that synch easily.

The living room of the future will certainly have a video display, but where will its signal come from?  While there may be multiple sources of content (TiVo, SATV/CATV boxes, XBox, Playstation, etc.), Apple and Google are about to join the fray with the goal of dominating not just your living room, but becoming the OS for how you consume all of the content that matters to you – no matter where you consume it.  And while on the surface there are many similarities in features and functions, there are fundamental differences in how these camps are approaching their solutions.

Learning from the past

Like battles of an earlier era –  Mac vs. PC (80’s), Explorer vs. Netscape (90’s), iPod vs. a legion of MP3 players,  and iPhone vs. Palm/ Windows Blackberry (00’s) – the stakes are massive, with big winners and losers in the making.

Apple has mastered the UXP (user experience) on the desktop, mobile phone and maybe best of all on the iPad, but Apple TV (ATV) thus far has not measured up.  ATV has also been hindered by Apple’s belief (or goal) that everyone wants iTunes at the center of their universe.  To that end, iTunes has been a tremendous asset in the establishment of the iPod, and it has worked well with the iPhone App Store, but an iTunes-centered strategy has thus far been a liability in the living room.   While iTunes does a good job of bringing the music, video and photo libraries you already own to the living room via ATV, it excludes almost all of the (quality) online video that isn’t already on your computer.  Hulu, Fancast, NetFlix,, ESPN3 and more are shut out, unless you want to pay $1.99 for what is often readily available for free via a web browser. In Apple’s defense, though, it has been hampered by a highly reluctant media industry that isn’t sure how to defend (much less grow) revenues from the content they produce in a digital era.

Googling the future?

Android has yet to show up on a TV via Google TV, but it soon will.  And it puts, at its core, that consumers want to get what’s available on the net on that big screen in the living room.

Google is hardly the master of UXP, but it has a compelling vision for Google TV,  which is centered around doing what Google does best – making it easy for users to find what they want, right when they want it.  Also, like Microsoft has done with Windows, and as Google has done in mobile, Google is licensing Android to a wide array of partners that will create TVs and other devices which will give consumers a wide range of choices.  How this plays out  – and pays out – for content producers, though, is an open (and scary) question, because too much free content without a decent monetization model is bad for Hollywood, broadcasters, etc.  Overcoming these concerns – with licenses or more partnerships – will be crucial for both Google and Apple as they move forward.

Competition is good

So far, it appears Google TV will give users half of what they want most, which is easy access to all of the great stuff that’s on the web, whenever they want it.  Today, Apple provides the other half,  bringing all of the assets that you already have on your computer to the big screen.  Whoever brings all of this together in the most elegant package is going to get a huge leg up in the iOS vs. Android battle.

Which piece is more important at this point?  Iconoculture’s Sean Captain says buying habits have changed significantly in the past year, to the point that  “access is the new ownership.”  In other words, if Google can bridge its UXP gap, and put all of those streams in our hands seamlessly, it may be able to take a lead in this battle.  In this respect, Google has a decided advantage with its experience managing and organizing massive cloud-based web systems that millions of users rely on daily.  While Apple is no neophyte in this regard, services like MobileMe have fewer users and yet lower performance and reliability.  But never count out Apple, not with billions of dollars at stake – not when both sides know that  the winner/loser won’t just be in the living room, but that it will flow back to the handset market, tablets, and the rest.

In fact, we’re now seeing numerous reports that say Apple is expected to overhaul its strategy for the living room and base it on iOS.  Inspired by (or worried about) the new, improved competition in an arena he once called “a hobby,” Steve Jobs is ready to re-launch ATV for the third time.  Will the next generation of ATV finally deliver a UXP that is up to what we expect from Apple?  Will it finally provide access to the depth of video content available in our web browsers?  And for both Google and Apple, how will they manage the push-pull with the media giants that own all those licenses?

But while many questions remain, one thing is clear, with so much investment being made into the products and services of iOS and Android, consumers will be the biggest winners of this intense competition.

  1. Great Post. Love the two perspectives.

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