In April we wrote about why Apple’s Health(book) was a bad idea. Two of those reasons apply to Google Fit as well: health information should be universal and consistent, and the parochial interests of a massive computing superpower should not also be the keeper of our health data. However, with Apple and Google declaring this a key battleground, we must expect that one or both of them will prove successful. Given that, we should hope that there is just one winner and that the winner is Google, not Apple. There are three primary reasons why:
Google is much better at software. I can’t name a single piece of software that Apple does better than Google: Drive beats Cloud and the Docs family beats the Pages family. iTunes is my music software of choice only because I’ve bought so much music there that I feel locked in. Google actually does software well. Their strategy of “keep it simple” precludes most of their software from being great but ensures that very little of it is actually bad. On the other hand, Apple should be embarrassed about the quality of their software compared to their lovely hardware. Even their vaunted operating system, held up as the standard for more than a decade, gets worse every day as they try to cross platforms while Google’s “keep it simple stupid” philosophy makes theirs better. So, let’s hope the winner of this battle is the one that actually knows how to do good software.
Google is far more open than Apple. Long-term I have my concerns about Google in this regard, but for now and into the immediate future Google pursues a relatively open strategy while Apple hunkers down within their decades-old walled garden. From a consumer electronics perspective I actually prefer the walled garden: Apple’s hardware is consistently excellent while the devices that serve up Google operating systems are a mixed bag. However, when you’re talking about health, you want openness and choices. Google Fit will be part of an infrastructure that fits into hardware made by dozens of companies and, taken together, clearly lead the device market. That’s what health needs: universality.
Google’s potential is massive. Apple’s best days are likely over. During its legendary 35-year-plus history, Apple has been great only when Steve Jobs was around. Since his death almost three years ago, Apple has not announced even a single truly interesting project. Google created a wave of nerd envy with Glass while perfecting their driverless fleet of automobiles and rolling out high-speed fiber in communities around the United States. In fact, Google does so many things that more of them ultimately fail than succeed. However, Google thinks big and acts big. They make a lot of interesting bets and within them are some of the key technologies of the future. Tim Cook may be a competent manager, but his Apple has proven bereft of genius or panache. God help me, they act more like Microsoft than Apple, while Google continues to reach for the stars.
In a perfect world our health information provider would be a non-profit that worked with every technology provider, creating a single open platform that was easy and available to all. In reality, health is becoming the battleground of the mega-corporations with two of the most important technology companies, Apple and Google, right at the center of it. Assuming that one or both of them prove successful, we should hope that Google is successful here. Their superior software, relative openness, and trajectory of vision and ambition makes Google a far better steward of our health data than Apple.