Five new ways Google is taking on Apple
Google and Apple. Apple and Google. No matter which side of the fence you're on, chances are the other one is the dark side. The two do seem to be locked in some sort of epic struggle, which only became clearer on Wednesday as Google held its I/O keynote in San Francisco’s Moscone West—the same venue where, just weeks before, Apple held its Worldwide Developer Conference.
Many of the technologies Google showed off in the keynote have their counterparts in recent Apple announcements. And while, like Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, the two companies might once have been friends working towards common goals, it’s increasingly apparent that their philosophical differences have set them on different, if not colliding, paths.
Android L vs. iOS 8
Yes, I know: no duh. Smartphones are perhaps the most obvious place where Apple and Google have clashed, as the iPhone faces off against an army of third-party devices running Google’s Android. But Google’s announcements about its latest version of the Android OS—dubbed Android L and due out later this year—will doubtless ring a few bells for Apple watchers.
For example, Google’s tease of less disruptive notifications mirrors Apple’s own plans to tweak that system in iOS 8. Both releases will focus on improving battery life—perhaps the most important metric for smartphones—and on providing better tools for monitoring energy consumption by individual apps. And both feature technologies that seek to simplify your phone while keeping it secure: Apple’s Touch ID will be opened to third-party apps in iOS 8, while Android will allow your phone to be unlocked without a PIN when you’re at home or when you have a known Bluetooth peripheral with you. Different approaches, but both aim to solve the same problem: We all spend too much time fiddling with passcodes.
And, no surprise, graphics are also an area of intense interest, with both companies touting technologies to beef up gaming on their respective devices: Apple announced its new Metal framework, while Google talked up its partnerships with Nvidia and others.
Android TV/Chromecast vs. Apple TV (and Fire TV, too!)
The battlefield of the living room is littered with the husks of technologies and platforms that fell by the wayside. Google itself is on its third major foray into the TV arena, this time in the guise of Android TV.
Easy as it is to pit the Android TV against the Apple TV, this is actually less of a duel than a melee. Android TV’s support for games and voice search, as well as the contextual information the platform lets users access, seems to more directly targeted at similar offerings from Amazon’s Fire TV. But in contrast to Amazon and Apple, Google is adopting the same strategy it’s used for smartphones and tablets: It’s working with as many hardware partners as it can find, including Sony, Philips, and Sharp.
Perhaps the smartest thing about Android TV is that Google is treating it as essentially a different screen-size experience of the Android platform, meaning that developers should be able to use the same tools to write apps for phones, tablets, and TVs—and they can distribute those TV apps, including games, on the Google Play store, which has its own Android TV interface. Third-party development is something that many have wanted to see on the Apple TV for some time, but has yet to arrive.
But wait, what’s all that mean for Google’s current streaming dongle, the Chromecast? Fear not, the Chromecast is still around! It’s even got a nifty new feature allowing you to stream your Android phone’s display, in real time, to your Chromecast. (Sound familiar?) They just need a catchy name—too bad “Google Play” is already taken.
Android Auto vs. CarPlay
From the living room to your commute: Apple may have dropped a couple of cars into Moscone for WWDC, but Google decided to one-up that by bringing one—or, well, part of one—up on stage to demo its new Android Auto platform.
Like Apple’s CarPlay, Android Auto offshores the heavy lifting of common car tasks like music, messaging, and navigation to your smartphone. You can interact via touchscreen, steering wheel controls, knobs and dials, or voice—just like CarPlay. And, of course, Google’s partnered with several automakers, who will begin shipping Android Auto-compatible units later this year—(say it with me now) just like CarPlay.
Presumably, this means that compatibility with our mobile-phone platform of choice will someday be one of the features we'll look for when we shop for a car. (Realistically, automakers will likely embrace all comers to remove that particular barrier to purchase.)
Google Fit vs. Health Kit
So once tech companies have taken over your TV and your car, what’s left? How about your immortal soul? Well, they may not have figured out how to harness that (yet), but in the meantime they're coming for your body.
Just as Apple announced its Health Kit system at WWDC, Google’s rolling out Google Fit, an SDK that provides a standard for fitness apps, letting them exchange information with each other (with your permission, of course). From what we saw, it doesn’t look as ambitious as Health Kit, which not only features Apple’s own Health app, but also aims to let others, including medical professionals, in on the fun. (Google made no mention of whether or not it would provide its own app.)
Really, though, the more standards, the merrier. Right?
Android Wear vs. the iWatch
Yes, yes, we know: Even after all this time, the iWatch is still a unicorn-powered figment of our imaginations. But the evidence that Apple’s working on something has been mounting, and Google is clearly aiming to steal any thunder Apple might potentially have.
The results are mixed. At Wednesday's event, Google took a really long time to get to the demo of its smartwatch platform, Android Wear. And when it finally did, it didn’t really provide a single compelling narrative for the devices. Rather, it took more of a scattershot approach, showing how you can order pizza and check your flights and get notifications—without really answering the question of whether it's appreciably easier to perform any of those tasks on a watch than it is on a phone.
Still, this is clearly an area where Google’s investing a lot of time and energy: Among other things, it promised to give attending developers not one, but two smartwatches. (Google senior vice president Sundar Pichai seemed almost maniacally focused on getting developers to write apps for round displays.)
We have yet to see Apple’s salvo in the wearable space. But if there’s one thing the folks from Cupertino excel at, it’s creating not only a narrative but a clear argument as to why you'd want a particular device.
Then again, you’ve got two wrists, right? Maybe the dual-smartwatch era is right around the corner.
War: What is it good for?
Make no mistake: These are just a few of the technology arenas where Google and Apple are poised to butt heads. There are plenty of others, from productivity suites to gaming to development tools. For every Apple action, there’s an equal and opposite Google reaction, and vice versa.
Tensions haven’t been this high since the Sharks and Jets last faced off—and let’s be honest, there’s going to be a lot less singing here. The battle lines have clearly been drawn, and if you were worried that the technology industry didn’t resemble the game of Risk closely enough—well, just kick back and put your feet up, because we’re not far off. The knock-down, drag-out knife fight’s just getting started; I guess all that’s left is for someone to call “one, two, three, go.”