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Google Battles Apple For Your Connected Life

A fight that broke out in your pockets has spilled over onto the wrist, into the living room and out to the car.

Vjeran Pavic

Earlier this month, Apple made its big pitch to developers, describing an integrated, seamless user experience built around its platforms, devices and services. Now it’s Google’s turn to do the same thing.

At its annual I/O developer conference this week, Google will tout the latest updates to Android and Chrome, and the growing variety of devices on which they run, as the foundation of a continuous user experience across devices.

More so than ever, Google and Apple’s versions of the connected life are colliding. A fight that broke out in your pockets has spilled over onto the wrist, into the living room and out to the car. Both companies want to convince app developers that theirs is the best way to reach millions of users around the world.

But the two tech giants are coming from very different places. In the smartphone age, Apple has succeeded by providing a cohesive ecosystem built around the tight integration of hardware and software, with a curated set of applications and services that run on it. Meanwhile, Google has made Android the world’s most popular smartphone operating system by allowing any handset manufacturer to roll out its own version. Indeed, according to Gartner, Android is on pace to surpass one billion users in 2014. According to IDC, Android now has 80 percent of new smartphone shipments.

So how will these vastly different approaches fare when the platform extends across myriad devices?

When it comes to a space like cars, it could be a challenge for both Google and Apple to deliver to their customers a seamless, integrated experience across vehicles made by a broad range of manufacturers. Car buyers won’t want to worry about whether their mobile OS of choice is compatible with their new ride.

But Apple may have an easier time of it. By manufacturing iPhones itself, and producing only a limited range of them, Apple has made market share sacrifices. But it’s also ensured that its smartphones behave in predictable ways. Which likely makes it easier to roll out new services like CarPlay that also behave in predictable ways and to deliver an integrated and continuous experience across Apple products.

By “opening” Android and making it available across a wide range of devices, Google has created a massive addressable market. But that’s come at a cost: hardware and software fragmentation mean its devices don’t always work predictably. The knock on Android has long been that it’s too fragmented, with only a sliver of the zillions of Android devices in the wild actually running the latest version of the OS, and some players like Amazon forking the software into a different direction entirely.

While Google has recently pushed for more consistency from its partners, the status quo is going to make it tougher for the company to deliver an integrated and continuous experience across cars, or in the home.

On the other hand, Google has vastly more applicable experience than Apple in deploying its software on other people’s systems. And given its long-time focus on collecting and making sense of online data, perhaps it is better positioned to make a connected world more useful to those who seek it.

The connected future is not a two-player game. But Google and Apple are the two titans to watch as they approach this new market with dramatically different philosophies.

Google has announced the theme for this year’s I/O event is “design, develop & distribute.” The big moment of the show is Wednesday’s keynote, at 9 a.m. PT. We’re expecting Android improvements, a smartwatchapalooza, the first signs of Android into car, developments in the health arena and more. Join us here for full coverage on Wednesday and watch Google’s webcast of the conference.

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