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Why the “customer” for Android is advertisers (and why it doesn’t matter)

Gruber:

It is that the consumer is Google’s product. Android is a delivery system to serve the consumer to Google’s target market — the advertisers. So Google’s customer for Android is not the consumer (with the arguable exception of the Nexus phones), but rather the carriers.

He’s right, and he’s wrong. It’s a bit like saying “magazines are the delivery system to serve the consumer to advertisers” – it’s true, in a literal sense, but it makes absolutely no difference to the qualities of the product itself. Why? Because, like magazines, if the product isn’t attractive to consumers, it won’t attract them enough for it to also be a viable “delivery system” for advertisers. The moment you stop thinking that your customer is the consumer, you’ll fail to make a product that works for your real customer (the advertiser).

Just like magazines, in order for it to be attractive to consumers, Google has to forget that Android is a delivery system for advertisers. Just as magazines developed the “Chinese wall” system that kept advertising and editorial apart, so Google has to have a Chinese wall between the people who develop Android and advertising. Google, like Apple, has to solely focus on the needs of consumers.

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  • http://twitter.com/tillery Neal Tillery

    Gruber’s point is that when your customer is just the consumer you’re able to provide a much better product.  It gives you a purity of purpose and doesn’t force you to make trade-offs for your real customers at the expense of user experience.  The Android upgrade process is obviously broken because the end users are not the real customers, and the incentives to make it easier are not well defined.  Apple doesn’t have this problem because their customers and consumers are one and the same.

    You also don’t send mixed marketing messages.  Gruber et al. were discussing about how confusing it is for Android users who want to upgrade to ICS get any real information about when an upgrade would be available.  Google’s product page is very much designed for consumers, but doesn’t tell them how to get their product.  That’s just terrible marketing.  

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Well that’s the point I’m making: If you’re making something supported by advertising, in order to achieve your goal (making something that works as an advertising platform) you have to forget that you have advertisers – so your customer is still just your customer. For example, from magazines: You might get a bonus based on increased circulation (because that shows your product is popular with consumers), but you’d never get a bonus based on increased revenue (because that shows your product is popular with advertisers).

  • http://twitter.com/tillery Neal Tillery

    But your analogy falls down when it comes to the mobile industry.  Magazine publishers control the distribution of their product.  Google does not, but still markets the benefits of upgrading to consumers, who in turn get no good information on how to do this.  They have to go to some third party that is not incented to upgrade their product.  No amount of publishing industry like separation will fix that. 

    When you’re selling product directly to your real customer you don’t have to waste time on such silliness and can focus your energy on making the best product possible.  Most consumer electronics and software companies operate this way.  It’s only Google and Android that have to perform these kinds of gymnastics, and the output is demonstrably worse for the consumer.  I think that’s the main point Gruber and MG are making.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Well magazine publishers only control distribution to a certain degree, which is why they endlessly complain about the power of Smiths/Menzies. The only place they sell direct to their customers is via subscription, and the only reason they do that is because it allows them to get more data about consumers which they can then use to increase the margin on their ad sales rates. Which is, of course, just like Google does. 

  • http://twitter.com/tillery Neal Tillery

    BTW I’m taking issue with the post because you say it doesn’t matter that Google’s real customers are the advertisers when all the evidence to the contrary shows that it does.  There maybe tactics that Google can take to remedy the problems, but they still have problems that other vendors do not.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Yeah, I see that :) 

    But I think it’s a bit of a canard, and also gives Google (in a way) too much credit. I think Android is what it is because Google isn’t great at user-focused design where the users aren’t geeks. Its only truly good design was (and to a certain extent still is) the search engine home page. Everything else is mediocre, not because of who its customers are, but because of who its designers are.

    (Worth reading on this, if you haven’t: http://stopdesign.com/archive/2009/03/20/goodbye-google.html)

    I think John’s just over-complicating it. He’s looking at how bad Android is, and going “Why would a smart company not design something better? It must be because they’re designing for the wrong customer!”. Whereas I just look at everything they’ve done and go “actually, they’re great computer scientists, but they’re really not great designers”.

  • http://twitter.com/holgate Nick Sweeney

    Perhaps part of the problem for observers trying to ascribe coherent motives to Google is that it’s not entirely clear who we mean by “they”, given the perceived tension between its engineering and marketing wings. (The “Chrome sponsored link” debacle is an even better example.)

    Bowman’s piece pointed towards the problem for designers in an engineering culture that extends top-down from Marissa Mayer’s techno-Gradgrindery, but we have plenty of examples of other designers whose work is squeezed to accommodate the demands of the ad-selling department. If anything, Google seems less beholden to those kinds of compromises than purer online media properties, but because it’s an internal discussion, there’s lots of space to make presumptions.