Google on Apple: The end is near

I love using Google services on Apple hardware, but now I fear those days are numbered

The chat room and social network religious wars between Apple and Google demand that you take sides. But I've always felt that the best experience includes a cherry-picking of Apple hardware, Google services and apps from both.

For example, on my MacBook Pro, iPad and iPhone, my No. 1 application is Google Chrome, where I obsessively use Google Search, Google Photos, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google News, Google Maps, Google+, Inbox and more.

Yes, I use non-Google services, but eight out of the top 10 sites I use are Google services.

After the announcements at Apple WWDC last week, and at Google I/O last month, it's clear that the days of using Google services on Apple hardware are numbered.

Soon we'll be forced to choose between all-Google or all-Apple.

Why your virtual assistant has an entourage

Google Now often knows what you want before you do, and it can predict when you should leave your house in order to get to the airport on time and do other helpful tricks. None of this works unless you're using Google's Gmail, Google Search, Google Calendar and Google Maps. That's where the data comes from. So for a couple of years, to embrace Google Now fully meant also embracing at least four other Google services.

Google I/O ushered in a powerful new Google Now. A new feature called Now on Tap brings contextual awareness into your apps as well (when developers support the feature). For example, if you were listening to a song in a music app, you could ask Google Now: "Who sings this?" Google Now would get the contextual information from the app, instead of its own Knowledge Base, and just answer your question. A chat app could enable anyone engaged in a conversation about a restaurant to simply ask Google Now (without leaving the app) what time the restaurant closes, and Google Now could answer based on information it got from Yelp -- a different app.

Now on Tap is a huge benefit that Google Now fans are going to love. There's just one catch: You need an Android phone to use it. So now, in addition to using all those other Google services, you also need to use Google's mobile operating system to take full advantage of Google Now.

And last week at WWDC, Siri, Apple's virtual assistant, gained amazing new powers as well.

For starters, Siri got the a major feature that Google Now once had exclusively: preemptive notifications, which interrupt you with important information rather than waiting for you to ask. The next Siri, in the upcoming iOS 9, will feature integration with (and reliance upon) Spotlight search, as well as Apple's Calendar and Maps applications.

So if you're an iPhone user like me who favors Google Search, Google Calendar and Google Maps, Siri won't let you take full advantage unless you switch to Apple's alternatives.

Like the Now on Tap feature in Google Now, Siri will offer developers an API for third-party integration. Needless to say, these will be iOS apps and no other kind.

Both Google Now and Siri just got way, way better. But they both achieved those improvements by favoring the full-time, exclusive use of either Google or Apple apps, services and operating systems.

Let's follow two trend lines and see where we end up. The first is the way virtual assistant apps are becoming increasingly reliant on an entourage of products from a single company.

The second is they way users are becoming increasingly reliant on virtual assistant apps. As we move into the wearable era, and as virtual assistants like Google Now and Siri become better, we'll depend on them more and we'll believe them to be more important and central to us in our daily lives.

As these trends converge, people like me will be forced to stop using Google services on Apple hardware; we’ll have to fully embrace one platform at the expense of the other.

And there's one other factor forcing the choice between Google and Apple: Apple's business model.

Apple's mission to replace Google services

Google makes its money on advertising, mostly. So Google has an interest in encouraging people like me to use advertiser-supported Google services on my Apple hardware.

Google tries to make its apps work as well as possible on iOS. One recent example emerged last week in the Google Maps for iOS app. Let's say you're using Google Maps on your desktop computer and you want to send a location to your phone. Google can't enable this feature for iPhone users in the same way it does on Android because it doesn't have the same access to the mobile operating system. So Google came up with a brilliant workaround that uses notifications to transfer the command. (To use the feature, enable notifications for Maps in your iPhone's Settings, then a new "Send to device" link will appear in Maps for any location you find via a Maps search.)

Apple, on the other hand, makes money by selling hardware, software and cloud services, and by distributing content. Apple has no interest in encouraging me to use Google services. In fact, it's trying to replace them because it sees Google services as nuisance gateway drugs into the Google ecosystem.

That's almost certainly the explanation for the following Apple moves:

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook recently dissed advertiser-supported businesses (a not-so-subtle reference to, mainly, Google). He said: "You might like these so-called free services, but we don't think they're worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data-mined and sold off for God knows what advertising purpose."
  • Apple announced new features for its Spotlight search on OS X that replace key aspects of Google Search. For example, Spotlight now has natural-language search, making it easy for users to search both desktop and Web at the same time by asking simple questions. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jason Calacanis says the use of Spotlight to replace Google Search is part of a mission to "destroy Google."
  • Apple launched Apple Maps in 2012 as a replacement for the default Google Maps on mobile devices and is now copying aspects of Google's StreetView system of driving around and photographing everything.

One day soon, you'll have to choose

Because Siri and Google Now will get better over time by integrating apps and services controlled by Apple and Google, respectively -- and because we'll rely more on those virtual assistants -- users will be discouraged from using Google services on Apple hardware.

Because Apple is actively working to replace Google services for OS X and iOS users -- and integrate Apple's alternatives into Apple's operating systems -- Apple users will be increasingly discouraged from using any Google products at all.

Some of this is happening by accident, but some of it is happening by design.

The result for people who love both Apple and Google is that we'll have to choose: Either use Apple hardware with Apple's services, or switch to Android devices and use Google's services.

The days of using Google on Apple are coming to an end. I fear we’ll all have to choose between going all-in with Apple or all-in with Google.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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