Why I’m Down on Google, RIM and their Ilk

It seems like a lot of people assume I’m all boo-hiss on Google, RIM, Samsung, HTC, and their ilk just because I’m absolutely blindly in love with Apple.

While I certainly admire Apple, it’s not a blind love. I have plenty of criticism for that company and its products (don’t get me started on the company’s abysmal cloud strategy or the failing quality of its consumer Mac software products).

After all, one can’t help but admire a company that literally comes back from the brink of death and in 10 short years redefines the entire consumer technology industry. And one also can’t help but heap scorn on the also-rans that seek merely to duplicate Apple’s accomplishments through rank mimicry.

Apple achieved its current success through a combination of creative vision, calculated risk taking, and absolute commitment to a high quality of user experience. These are qualities that seem to be lacking in other companies as they scramble to issue competing products with a rushed  photocopier mentality.

That’s why I’m really so down on other tech companies like Google and RIM: they’ve settled comfortably into Apple’s slipstream, riding out the race with as little effort as possible.

I personally admire risk, creativity, cutting edge concepts, change, and ideas that shake the foundations of accepted “fact”. Apple demonstrates these types of qualities in its approach to new products. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad are all examples of this.

I don’t see that same type of creativity in other companies, that willingness to take risks, to make bold leaps, to introduce exciting new ideas.

Google, for example, is working to clone Apple’s iOS with only enough differentiation so as to avoid litigation. Samsung isn’t so lucky: its iPhone copycat phones and tablets have drawn the ire of Apple’s formidable legal counsel. RIM is clearly struggling to introduce something – anything! –that resembles Apple’s efforts into a market the company has almost no knowledge of: “this … is where tech companies go to die,” lamented RIM’s co-CEO Jim Balsillie in a recent interview. Inspiring words, no?

Were RIM, Google, Samsung, HTC, or any other company doing anything even remotely influential, visionary, or conceptually creative, I’d give them some credit. But playing catch-up just to generate a replica of an established, successful product to my mind is frivolous and, worse, boring. Each of these companies have millions of dollars at their disposal, some of the most brilliant engineering minds alive today, and teams of dedicated design and experience experts. And the best they can come up with is a poor man’s iPad?

Really, it’s disgraceful. They should be ashamed.

Rather than seek to scores more points than Apple, they should instead adopt that opponent’s mentality: change the game. Screw the touch screen, screw the tablet form factor, screw the App Store. What else is out there waiting to be invented? How can they give consumers something so compellingly different that Apple’s products will look old hat?

It’s that type of lust for advancement and change that I expect from companies like Google and RIM. Instead, they distantly tail Apple on a road the leader has paved to success. So get off the road. Take some risks, break some trails in the wilderness and make some amazing new discoveries.

In that vein, I’d note that in my criticisms I’m generally silent about two companies: Microsoft and HP. While Redmond’s waning star certainly botched the first iteration of its second (third? fourth? fifth?) stab at mobile computing, there’s enough differentiation going on in Windows Phone 7 (thought certainly not the hardware) that I’m seeing sparks of ingenuity and am willing to give them credit and time to get their shit together. It’s a long shot, but, heck, Apple returned to relevancy, why can’t Microsoft? (The answer to that question might be as simple as the lack of visionary leadership at that company. But I digress.)

Then there’s HP, which picked up Palm and its WebOS a while back. With that unique and compelling OS under its belt, HP is the current black horse in the industry. The WebOS is truly ingenuitive (in fact, it’s a clear secondary source of inspiration for the RIM’s emerging OS) and Palm was poised to knock Apple off its pedestal – if the company had ever come up with a solid strategy and hadn’t run out of money. HP will either commit a colossal blunder and shamefully render the WebOS irrelevant, or it’s prepping a device so different and advanced as to finally rattle Apple’s cage. And I like how they’re taking their time with it, unlike RIM’s rush to market with a half-baked product.

So I don’t admire and support Apple because it’s Apple. I support a company that I see as leading the industry, defining trends, delivering consistently high-quality and compelling new products that inspire consumers and competitors alike. If Google or RIM or HTC or Samsung ever got off their lackadaisical, bureaucratic arses and introduced a product that made my jaw drop because it was so awe-inspiring and clearly original, I’d be behind them 100%. But they haven’t. And they don’t seem to be about to.

Think of it this way: if Apple had never introduced the iPod or the iPhone or the iPad, where would we be? Apple inspired – in a sense forced – the industry to change and advance. No matter the product you use today, the current state of technology has been achieved in large part because of Apple. If another company wants to come along and push us even further even faster, buy me a ticket because I’ll hop on board that train.