Google, Microsoft In Step in New Era


By Rob Enderle

Apple, Google and Microsoft are three very powerful companies. Two of them had big events last week — Google I/O and Microsoft Build. What I found interesting was that both Google and Microsoft largely were on the same page about focusing on the customer.

Both Google and Microsoft have been making massive advancements with artificial intelligence. Both have increased their efforts to make the world a better place.

Apple, on the other hand, is still using the lock-in model to keep customers from abandoning it, and increasingly appears more intent on increasing margins than on satisfying its unusually loyal and valuable customers.

I’ll share my views on their strategies and then close with my new favorite browser: Chromium Edge. (Seriously this thing is AWESOME!)

Google and Microsoft

I observed a number of really interesting things from watching the Microsoft Build Keynote and the Google I/O keynotes back to back. One was that while Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s passion clearly showed, Sergey Brin looked like he was reading the ingredients in a recipe he didn’t like. The contrast in energy and interest was stark, even though both men were announcing similarly revolutionary offerings.

While Google was the first to embrace open source, and by a considerable margin, Microsoft has matched it. Both firms now are pretty much on the same page — not only with regard to an increasing customer focus, but also when it comes to putting their efforts into making the world a better place.

They have been getting there with different tools, but the concept of building around the customer, while more pronounced at Microsoft than at Google, is very visible at both companies. Google never has seemed to care that much about profit, largely because its revenue source typically is decoupled from the product, and Microsoft historically has been product-focused.

Google’s pivot to privacy is largely sourced through government sanctions that likely have scared the hell out of it. Microsoft’s is more because its model favors privacy in the first place — but both firms largely were in lockstep on the importance of their respective efforts.

A Truly Smart Digital Assistant

One of the most interesting parts of both keynotes was that both CEOs placed their digital assistant efforts toward the top of their respective priority lists, and their new feature sets are going to be remarkably close. Both Google’s and Microsoft’s assistant efforts appear better, in terms of performance, than Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. However, Siri is better known, and Alexa is more widely used.

Both companies announced aggressive steps to fix that, with assistants that can hold conversations and perform multiple linked tasks far more like what a human assistant might be able to accomplish.

Both showcased advanced translation and speech-to-text capabilities, and both highlighted impressive performance potential. One interesting, perhaps ironic, difference was that Google was stronger with its disconnected device capability, which I would have expected to be more in Microsoft’s purview. However Microsoft’s overall cloud message, with a performance gaming component, was far stronger. It felt at times as though each company thought it was the other.

Hardware and Collaboration

Other areas where the companies diverged were on collaboration and hardware. Microsoft presented some impressive improvements to its Teams product, which now can loop in remote workers into a rendered video conferencing environment using Spatial, a revolutionary avatar-based telepresence technology. It gave me hope that much of my travel soon may go away. It offered everything from real-time translations to the ability to turn presenters translucent so you could see what was behind them. Really revolutionary stuff.

Google was more about the hardware — from its updated Nest Hub and Next Hub Max to its new aggressively priced, potentially iPhone-killing, Pixel 3a phone. It had me thinking it was time to hide my wallet again. Its new phone actually comes in purple, which got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could get my wife off her horrid iPhone (purple is her favorite color and our anniversary is coming up).

The Pixel 3a has three iPhone-killing features: a battery that uses machine learning to produce up to 30 hours of battery life (15 minutes on the charger provides seven hours of use); a camera with super high-resolution zoom and market-leading night mode; and the new Google assistant that makes Siri look so last decade. The digital well being improvements also are impressive, with new phone features that could increase productivity by 90 percent and reduce nighttime usage (improving sleep) by 27 percent.

Making a Better World

Surveys of millennials indicate they want to work with firms that will go out of their way to make a better world. I’ve covered efforts by Dell, Cisco and IBM in the past, and this clearly has become an industry trend.

Microsoft’s aims to enable people to make a difference in the world by giving them the tools they need to execute changes. In its keynote, the theme was on how to build trust, with a significant focus on election accuracy worldwide. Ensuring this process will allow for stronger citizen-driven change short of revolution — something we may appreciate even here in the U.S. shortly.

Google’s presentation along these lines was more about what Google could do, suggesting its effort is partially in response to its eroding brand and concerns that the company was becoming evil.

It highlighted impressive tools that could give a voice to those who can’t speak. It was a pretty amazing demo, because once trained using machine learning, the system could differentiate between a stroke victim otherwise unintelligible sounds.

Google also highlighted a huge advancement in early warnings of flooding using satellite imaging and heavy simulation.

Both firms’ approaches were accretive. In other words, it wasn’t one or the other but one plus the other that got you the best results.

Microsoft Azure

For some screwy reason, the cloud was all Microsoft and Azure. Google seemed more about edge computing. Microsoft pointed to its expanded to 54 regions and whopping worldwide compliance certificates — the most of any company.

I found out that it has been working with each government far more than any of its competitors, not only to comply, but also to change compliance requirements so that they actually make sense, improving the environment for all vendors.

One of the most interesting implementations came from AT&T, which has been using Azure for drone tracking and to eliminate the risk drones pose to commercial aircraft. Starbucks has been using Azure for coffee quality assurance (a good thing — I’ve stopped going to Starbucks because the coffee tastes bad). Microsoft highlighted a blockchain logistics product in conjunction with Starbucks that better assured packaged coffee quality.