Tablets in the 90s

I’ve been thinking recently about this whole “Apple is doomed because they can’t do AI” bug that’s been going around the tech press lately. I think that Google had a pretty good I/O conference and showed off some cool stuff in their messaging apps that made Apple fans take notice. It felt like the community went from barely talking about AI at all to making all we cared about basically overnight.

Now there are a few things that stop me short of suggesting that Google is lapping Apple in terms of smartphone tech. First, Google showed unfinished products at a tech conference, and no one has been able to use any of the cool things that triggered this conversation. There’s a big gap between how something looks on stage and how it works in real life. Second, Google has an atrocious history with messaging platforms, as they basically have a new one every year or two that never takes off. The only way this system becomes successful is if everyone you talk to starts using it. History shows they won’t.

That’s why I’m a little skeptical about Goole’s cool new AI features, but there’s a bigger question that I don’t think we have the answer to yet: do people even want this stuff?

I really don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that people aren’t demanding it. I work at a tech company and everyone I work with is pretty tech savvy. The office is full of Android and iOS devices and I’ve talked to a bunch of people about how they use their devices over the last few months. We have far more Android users than iPhone users, so it’s interesting to see how everyone uses these things. Is the experience of using Android that much different than iOS?

As it turns out (in my small sample, of course), not really. I haven’t talked to one person who uses Google Now On Tap, most people don’t even know what Google Now is, and most people don’t use Google’s voice search. There definitely is a feeling that iOS is more locked down than Android, but they don’t seem to care more about how that enables them to get emulators running and customizing the look and feel of their devices more than anything related to productivity. It turns out people use their phones basically the same: they tap and icon, use that app, hit the home button, and tap into another app.

I also found that most Android fans have an outdated view of what you can do on iOS. I showed them the now 2 year old share sheet where you can share from any app to any other app and they had no idea that was possible. They thought that data was trapped in each app. They didn’t know 3rd party keyboards were even possible and got jealous when I showed off Google’s own Gboard keyboard and thought it was cooler than the regular Android keyboard.

Google is definitely in the lead when it comes to AI components of their operating system compared to Apple. They have the technical know how and the corporate drive to do great things in this space, and Apple has to change their approach if they’re going to catch up. I’m just left wondering how much this matters, or if Google is essentially Microsoft making tablets in the 1990s all over again; it’s a good idea eventually, but the tech isn’t there and more importantly, people aren’t ready for it.