Android vs. Apple. A Microcosm Win For Google.

So we hit Best Buy yesterday to buy my mother some new tech toys.  The outcome is a microcosm of where Android is slowly encircling and, (I think) eventually enveloping Apple.

My mother’s specific request was for a device to watch YouTube on the TV. Note that this was her idea, not mine. It allows her to indulge in French TV science shows, John Oliver, and opera. OK she’s a bit weird, but where do you think I got it from?  She also needed a new tablet to replace a painfully under-powered Asus Android device I’d gotten her previously.

I walked in thinking a Roku HDMI stick and a Apple IPad. The Roku came with a physical remote. And I figured I should just get Mom on the Apple bandwagon. We actually bought a Roku but returned it a few hours later. The remote control interface was clunky and we couldn’t get the sound to work. More important, we’d crystallized a decision on a tablet.

We walked back out with a 12.2 inch Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro and a Google Chromecast. They were mutually self-reinforcing purchases. Cue Larry Paige and an evil cackle….

  • The tablet was the key. A 12.2 inch screen is, wait for it, bigger than an iPad’s 10 inch screen. And as my mother noted, her eyesight isn’t likely to get any better. That was pretty much the entire discussion. Android’s multi-device ecosystem gave us a choice Apple is not (currently) willing to offer. Also tight, easy integration with Google apps. Like…. Chromecast and YouTube.
  • Chromecast was the second key. It gave us a cheap, integrated, and easy way to watch Internet content on-screen. Emphasis on “cheap.” Yes we could have bought and AppleTV, but we wouldn’t have spent the money. Also it would have become “another damn box.”  That would have nixed it regardless. But a little $35 dongle at the back of the TV set was unobtrusive and cheap enough to pass muster.
  • Yes I understand Chromecast works with Apple too.  But its still native Google and I suspect…

Most interestingly, the tablet was about $100 MORE expensive than an iPad. We got some of that back on the low-cost Chromecast, but this was still a premium purchase vs the Apple alternative. But those 2 inches of real estate are worth every penny.

The purchase illustrates the two sources of friction that will slow Apple. Especially as the market matures and “friction” becomes a larger part of the purchase equation.

  • The Henry Ford problem. You could buy the Model T in any color you wanted, as long as it was black. Heck, it took ages for Ford to even introduce the Model “A.” Apple has a huge incentive to offer a limited selection of models. And they keep dribbling out product improvements with an eye towards driving a constant product refresh cycle. Hence the absence of touch on Apple laptop screens. That is fine when you are driving a fast-moving market, but it hurts progressively as the market matures. Cue GM’s increasingly successful challenge to Ford (with multiple models and, gasp!, colors). And Android’s likely increasing success vs Apple.
  • The need to make money on hardware. Apple TV is a great system. But it isn’t anywhere near the price neighborhood of Chromecast. Google doesn’t need to make money on Chromecast. I’m waiting for someone to do the same to the iPod. I realize a lot of iPods have been superseded by phones, but the price hasn’t gone down for how long? Memory and component costs have plunged. The gross margins must be 80%-90% at this point and that isn’t sustainable…

Apple will maintain its hold on upper-income households for a long long time. Which means it will maintain its stranglehold on investors imaginations (since they are mostly upper-income types who don’t get out much).  That situation will be worth a whole lot for a very long time.

But the underlying reality looks to be sliding in a different direction. It will be interesting to see when and how this slippage starts to intrude on perceptions.

PS. The big Samsung screen really is gorgeous. And the thing is terrifyingly lightweight. Been a while since I’ve felt that sense of magic with a device. And the “send to TV” thing really was pretty neat (and seamless/gorgeous). Another step towards cord-cutting for the masses.

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