In 256 B.C. the two superpowers of the ancient world went to war. Rome, a rapidly growing agrarian society, needed to secure the Mediterranean coast of Italy against invasion. Which meant Rome needed control of Sicily, because it was just off their southern coast. As a society of farmers, they needed their borders safe to protect their land.
Carthage, a mercantile society, saw Rome encroaching on the Mediterranean Sea and saw a threat to their shipping lanes. Sicily was the main shipping route between Carthage and Italy. They needed control of the Mediterranean in order to continue their dominance as the premier merchants of the ancient world.
Each vision of the future was mutually exclusive. They couldn’t both dominate the Mediterranean, yet neither could afford to lose it. The ancient world was falling away and only the winner would have the power to shape the new era.
The ancient beige-box world of computing is falling away while the new era is busy asserting itself in a dozen different form factors and price points. Google and Apple are two companies currently betting everything on mobile computing, each with very different ideas about how to make money.
Where computing goes, gaming follows. How the average person uses a computer will change drastically in the next decade. How the average person games will change even more.
This is not just another console war.
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.—Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs
Apple is an empire built on selling hardware. Yes, they make money from their app store and iTunes, but over 80% of their revenue comes from iPhones, iPods and Macs. Their investments in OSX and iOS are money spent chasing hardware sales.
Apple has built this empire on the power of design. They understood far before anybody else in the hardware space that once you can no longer make money just selling raw computing power, when computing power is commoditized, you can still make money selling a symbol of computing.
Apple’s hardware and user interface design is the envy of every other technology company on the planet. The iPhone on its release was a disruptive technology, but not because it was more powerful than what had come before. Its sheer elegance was disruptive. The fact that Apple could use sheer design to topple the cellular networks’ monopoly on cellphone software is staggering. A hand-held cellular internet device you actually want to use was so revolutionary that it sent every other smartphone manufacturer into a complete panic. It’s no coincidence that 3 years later almost every new smartphone released is some variation on the iPhone design.
The weakness of Apple’s business model is that design can be copied very easily. Hardware design can be ripped off with enough time. User interface design is even easier to copy. There is nothing in the iPhone that was technically revolutionary, aside from the extent of Apple’s control over its use. Every single piece of the iPhone has been implemented before and will be implemented again. As you read this, Google and their partners are rapidly spending a ton of money proving it. Patents, trademarks, brand names and dancing silhouettes set to indie rock tunes can only go so far. Information is cheap. Copies are even cheaper.
We did not enter the search business; they entered the phone business. Make no mistake: They want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them.—Steve Jobs discussing Google’s Nexus One
What happens to Apple’s profit margins on hardware once their competitors catch up?
There’s always more information out there.—Google Corporate 10-Point Philosophy, #7
Google’s official mission is “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” They succeeded so well that they have literally changed the way the world thinks. The existence of Google has fundamentally changed the computing landscape, like the Roman Empire’s roads that crossed boundaries and connected distant cultures. Google is currently busy obliterating the ancient pre-Internet world of computing. But that’s not how they make their money.
Google is an empire built on advertising. Google’s employees are paid with AdWords money. For all the fancy services Google gives away for free, the (comparative) accuracy of their targeted AdWords is the secret to their business success.
If Google’s business model has a weakness, it’s the dirty little phrase called “content aggregation”. You only go to Google as long as you can find what you want. Google needs to know where everything is at all times, which is why Google has an army of computers constantly scouring the internet for every piece of data it can find. They can only do this because the web is an open standard, and the internet connects all of them together for free.
If Google did not act, we faced a Draconian future, a future where one man, one company, one device, one carrier would be our only choice.—Google’s VP of Engineering for Mobile Vic Gundotra, discussing Google’s motivation for creating Android
What happens to Google if all data is locked up behind proprietary apps again, like the databases from the stone ages of computing—all applications (and their data) requiring approval or worse, a proprietary, closed platform to run on? Google lives and dies by open access to data.
As of May 2010, 59% of all adult Americans go online wirelessly.—Pew Internet Mobile Access 2010 Survey
The past decade has seen computing explode beyond the walls of the cubicle. Now everyone is on Facebook, Google is a verb, and it’s almost a faux pas for anyone to not have an email address. But the computers they’re using to do this don’t look like the beige boxes of my formative years. Laptops now outnumber desktops in computer sales. Netbooks went from a chimera to dominating the low end of the computing market inside of 2 years. Computing has broken out of the cubicle, and that means the computer needs to leave the desk.
The definition of the word “computer” is rapidly coming to imply the prefix “mobile” for the average American. If you can’t put it in your pocket or backpack and take it with you, it’s not going to be relevant for long. And the process of how those computers become unplugged and modified to fit into your pocket matters to the computing industry. Will the content, and necessarily the platform underneath it, be open? Will it be an elegant, well designed little device with every app in its place (and no app out of place)?
Zynga Inc., maker of the Mafia Wars and FarmVille games played on Facebook, may be valued at $1 billion ... . That could make San Francisco-based Zynga the third-largest U.S. videogame publisher by market capitalization, bigger than Take-Two Interactive.—Bloomberg
When computers leave the desk, our games are inevitably going to follow. The videogame industry is changing rapidly due to pressure from social networking and mobile computing. EA is investing heavily in iPhone development. Sid Meier is going to release an iteration of the Civilization franchise on Facebook. And Zynga is busy using the underrated free-to-play model to rake in cash hand over fist.
The driver behind all these changes is the ubiquitous nature of internet access that’s spread thanks to mobile computing. FarmVille is a game you can play in any web browser (and on several phones) and it’s one of the most successful games in the world. It can steal a few seconds of attention (and real world cash) from millions of people anywhere they have a web browser, at any time of day.
Which is why Google has invested over $100 million in Zynga, apparently on the sly. There are rumors of Google Games launching later this year. Google’s platform isn’t Android, it’s the web—and that’s why the most popular game to ever hit a web browser is a perfect fit. Apple currently holds the lion’s share of the mobile gaming market, but that only holds as long as their overall smartphone marketshare is dominant. Which is why Apple has a stronger than normal interest in locking developers into their platform. Once their competitors catch up to their design, their only hope is to maintain that lock-in. Apple’s Game Center, the iOS4 EULA’s renovated stance on cross-platform development, the App Store’s approval process—these are all just fronts in the war to keep game developers and gamers on their platform.
Game development is a business, and they have to follow the money. This won’t just stay in the Facebook time-waster ghetto for long. If you think traditional PC gaming has taken it hard in the aughts, expect to be shocked by the next decade. iPads can play RTS games superbly. A 3G iPad can play an MMO anywhere you can get a cellphone signal. There’s no genre that a PC can do that a multitouch tablet, console, or some combination thereof can’t.
Yes, there will still be PCs. Yes, there will still be consoles. But they won’t matter nearly as much, because your iPad/Android tablet is as powerful as either one. More importantly, you can buy some variation on one for less than $100. I imagine with this crowd there are several of you shaking your head and harumph-ing under your breath. Just remember, there will be a day where your kids will wonder where that weird “QWERTY” thing that pops up on the screen came from.
Google and Apple have been in open warfare for a while now, but gaming is clearly the next major campaign. The winner gets to set the rules about how our games are made, and who gets to make them. On gaming’s little island of Sicily, do we start learning to speak Punic or Latin? It’s just too early to tell.
In 146 B.C., Rome burned Carthage to the ground, destroying almost all records of Punic civilization. Most of our knowledge of ancient Carthage comes from the historic records of the Romans. Rome literally erased Carthage from the face of the Earth.
One way or another, we’re all going to learn a new language.