Apple and Google could not be more different companies, despite both having roots in the classic startup operation and headquarters just miles apart in Silicon Valley. Apple is a hardware company. Google is an advertising company. Both build ecosystems to support their core revenue streams. Both are wildly profitable. Yet, each company approaches new product develop in entirely different ways.
CEO Tim Cook is considered an operations guru, and at least one former company engineer claims he turned Apple into a ‘boring operations company.’ Apple certainly does not churn out products with the regularity or irregularity of the Steve Jobs era, but no other company on earth has been as profitable, so efficient operations are not a bad thing.
Bob Burrough, former Apple engineer:
At Apple in 2007, organizationally it was the wild west. I was hired under a particular manager, but for the first two years worked on projects that had virtually nothing to do with that manager’s core responsibility. That’s because the organization wasn’t the priority, the projects were the priority. It was the exact opposite of ‘not my job.’ It was ‘I’m here to solve whatever problems I can, irrespective of my role, my title, or to whom I report.’ It was wild. But it was also very rewarding, because everything you did had maximal impact on the product.
That was in the middle of Steve Jobs’ reign. What about Apple under Tim Cook?
The teams were highly organizational, [hierarchical] and responsibilities were siloed. There was a clear sense that each person had a clear responsibility, and rarely deviated from it. When you went to someone for help solving a problem ‘not my job’ was a common response.
One can argue until the cows come home as to which was most beneficial to Apple’s product line, but Cook has managed to squeeze enormous profits from every product and service while many products other than the highly profitable flagship iPhone arrive late and with disappointing feature sets.
What of Google? The company doesn’t have the hardware business of Apple and derives more than 90-percent of revenue and profits the old fashioned way. Advertising. Despite Google X, the so-called ‘Moonshot factory’, Google-designed smartphones, tablets, other gadgets (many from companies purchased by Google) nothing has changed.
These are the pie-in-the-sky Google X projects which use Google’s massive wealth and resources to generate products of the future.
We’re a moonshot factory. Our mission is to invent and launch “moonshot” technologies that we hope could someday make the world a radically better place.
Fair enough. Cool, actually. What’s the basic methodology?
This is our blueprint for X moonshots: we look for the intersection of a big problem, a radical solution, and breakthrough technology. We start with a large problem in the world that if solved could improve the lives of millions or even billions of people. Then we propose a radical solution that sounds impossible today, almost like science fiction. Lastly, we look for a technology breakthrough that exists today; this gives us the necessary hope that the solution we’re looking for is possible, even if its final form is five to ten years away and obscured over the horizon.
How’s that working out so far?
Jonathan Berr on CBS MoneyWatch:
Google’s parent company Alphabet is scaling back its support for money-losing “moonshot” ventures that had little to do with its core search advertising business, as the company’s chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, reins in costs.
Uh oh. Maybe Google overshot the moon. At least we can see the moon.
Her moves have won kudos from Wall Street analysts, who have long argued that the company needed fiscal discipline. Some employees, however, are worried that Alphabet’s focus on the bottom line will cause it to miss the next great technological innovation
What’s the cost so far? Google won’t provide details per project, but nearly $1-billion in losses have been reported. By comparison, Apple’s R&D for 2016 is expected to top $10-billion for the past fiscal year.
How is R&D any different than Google X and Moonshot projects? Financially, it’s not. Money is money. While Apple focuses on products that integrate within the product ecosystem which competes against Google apps and Android OS, Google seems to be looking for something different, and profitability and integration appear less important, if not even a consideration.
From what I can see, Apple today is a company that still cares about design and usability, and prefers products that integrate well with other products, and even obvious future products– Apple glasses– fit in that mold. I admire Google for trying to find the next great thing, but it seems more like shooting in the dark than a careful plan to improve and profit.