How dogma begets anti-app myopia

About a year ago, in Flash, HTML5, and Mobile Apps, USV venture capitalist Fred Wilson argued why web apps were the future of online opportunity and yet again chastised Apple and its “proprietary app centric universe”:

I know where I personally come out in this fight. I much prefer a “web-centric handheld world” to a “proprietary app centric universe”. And that’s why I carry a Google phone instead of an iPhone. For me, it’s a political statement as much as anything else.

I had previously explained why Wilson missed the boat on Flash in Does “A VC” have a blind spot for Apple? and most recently touched upon the business reasons why he is so bothered about Apple’s ecosystem in The Unbearable Inevitability of Being Android, 1995.

The reason why I’m referencing Wilson here is because he’s a prominent member of the anti-app brigade whose crusades are often camouflaged anti-Apple campaigns. The hit-man for the brigade is ex-Microsoft chief evangelist and current Google engineering VP, Vic Gundotra, who told us in 2009:

“We believe the web has won and over the next several years, the browser, for economic reasons almost, will become the platform that matters and certainly that’s where Google is investing.”

Likewise, Wilson believes mobile is an extension of the non-mobile web and the same rules of monetization should apply there:

I’ve been saying for a while now that I think mobile economics will trend toward web economics as the mobile web goes mainstream. In other words, the business models that work best on the web will ultimately work best in mobile. The corollary to that is that the business models that don’t work well on the web will not work well in mobile in the long run.

Given the nature of his investment portfolio this appears to make sense, at least to Wilson. Throughout all this, the one entity Wilson always cites and one that has become true north for him has been in general Google and in particular Android, the land of the “open”, living in a browser, same everywhere, without constraints…indeed a monopoly of business opportunity for one and all.

Now comes Google, according to Wall Street Journal in Google Searches for Mobile-App Experts, that is about to zig big time from true north:

Google Inc. plans to hire dozens of software developers to create applications for smartphones and other mobile devices, people familiar with the matter said, a new strategy aimed partly at helping Google counter Apple Inc. in one of high tech’s hottest sectors.

Google also has reason to try to spur quality, not just quantity, since getting hit apps first can drive demand for operating systems and devices. Some of the apps developed by Google’s new effort may be available only for Android, the people familiar with the matter said. The adoption of Android also helps ensure that Google’s search engine, the principal revenue source for the company, and other Google services are prominent on mobile devices.

The Google effort coincides with a rush by thousands of Internet professionals and college graduates to quit safe, salaried jobs to try their hand at mobile apps.

In a nutshell, Google, one of the most opportunistic web companies on the planet and Wilson’s true north, has seen the light, recognized the centrality of mobile apps and decided to join the revolution. If it’s taken Google 300,000+ apps and 10 billion downloads to see the light, I don’t know how long it might take Wilson to change his anti-app tune and re-calibrate his portfolio.

14 thoughts on “How dogma begets anti-app myopia

  1. I can see that web apps are going to be the entrance for many new users. The web will flourish and grow because of the new entrants. Many of the new users won’t experience native apps until they acquire a platform that makes it easy for them to get and use them.
    This leads me to believe that web apps will grow exponentially. Monetizing this growth is going to be very difficult. People using the lowest cost machines may not be a lucrative market to sell in. Hence, Google going native.
    I have a love/hate(maybe a bit strong) relationship with Google. I do love and use Google Maps. I do not trust Google. It began to go downhill when they dropped HTML5 support from Chrome. I think they are going to drop the whole shebang of Chrome and maybe even Android into an OSS(FOSS) consortium of some kind. Let the users control it.

  2. This is more about exclusive content then apps or platform.
    This just a way for Google to keep fooling the analysts into
    thinking they have another hit come just around the corner.
    This also speaks to the need for constant acquisitions.

    Google already has the platform but lacks content even
    though they index the whole web.

    Because Apple changed the lingo from Web 2.0 Applications
    to Apps. Google is simply using the latest buzzword.
    They attack until they have their own similar feature.
    Just like they called iPad, a giant ipod touch.

    Google was doing Cocoa applications for the mac prior
    to iphone release, subsequently they only release iphone Apps.

    So in another word. Google needs their own Walled Garden to
    attract the bees.

  3. It’s amazing to me how some people think that native and Web apps can’t co-exist, when they have been doing so for 20 years. They are a perfect compliment to each other. They are yin and yang. A BlackBerry doesn’t need to run Final Cut Pro, and a Mac does, but both need to run WhiteHouse.gov. The Web will never provide the power of Cocoa, but Cocoa will never provide the ubiquity of the Web. Just because you can go outside (Web) doesn’t mean you get rid of your house (native).

    It’s also amazing how many of these same people assume Apple is anti-Web, when the truth is Apple is both pro-Web and pro-native. I mean: WebKit. Come on. Fred Wilson chooses an Android device so he can run Apple’s browser engine.

  4. “True North” is all water!!! There is no solid ground. People should now turn to “True South” just like Apple. Otherwise, all these will be treading water!!!

  5. I beg to differ on the dogma issue. If you’re the least familiar with how small p politics plays out in a duopolistic party system, product differentiation trumps idealistic dogmatism. What appears to be deeply rooted into a sturdy set of beliefs simply buoys on the surface of opportunism.

    Google and its pundit “glass menagerie” will do and say and write and enunciate any set of axioms most likely to evolve into a self- fulfilling prophecy. Perfect product differentiation can very well turn out to be a copycat approach toward a back bone success story, with an ingenious counter-spin wise narration of the true origin of the specie.

    Google couldn’t spell Idealism nor dogma if it tried. It’s nowhere to be seen in both the political hack’s and the geek’s lexicon …and as for the glass menagerie, …

    • With dogma I wasn’t referring to Google, but to people who contort reality, taste, common sense and even rationality to fit their various personal or business interests into a ‘benevolent open’ mantra.

    • I had concurred with the basic thrust of your admonition. You fell victim to my rhetorical excesses and from a kindred spirit, my sincere apology…!

  6. Solid read, and totally agree. Fred has made his bed/bet, and is committed to sleep in it (and god love him for it).

    Somewhat of a “tell,” though, is that at home, he’s a pretty faithful iPad user. Maybe, that’s because there are no good tablet devices at home, but then the question is whether he uses many apps, whether they are integral to his workflow in that environment, and if it’s superior to web alternatives at home, why would it be inferior on the road?

    • As long as software doesn’t matter, and depth & dedication of user experience doesn’t matter, maybe he’s right.

      Then again, without the dynamic of pricing subsidy and/or channel scarcity, one really gets to see how deft Apple is when it’s fighting with both of its fists, as opposed to with one hand behind its back.

    • There are additional conditionalities as well: anti-Apple weltanschauung for the common men and having to front their own business interests for celebs.

    • “and having to front their own business interests for celebs.”
      Elucidate, please.

      So far as the Apple/Android battle, I’d guess the Verizon iPhone will result in Android losing some US share for the first time, but it would seem that Android gains in tablet share are inevitable. the iPad’s current market share is simply too high to be sustainable.

      So far as Google investing in Android only apps, it will be interesting to see if Apple counters with things like free turn by turn navigation and better built-in voice recognition. Apple could certainly use some spare change from their cash pile to buy Dragon and some up-to-date worldwide street maps for turn-by-turn.

    • I was referring to celebrities who have their own business interest but camouflage them under Google’s ‘open’ mantra in opaque ways.

  7. To me Google and Android users seem to be unrequited lovers apathetically entwined; Twisted insouciance.

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