Decide What You Care About, and Map The Incentives


[ Published: September 16, 2014 ]

I’ve seen variations of this quote many times and I think it’s a crucial point when comparing how good companies are at something.

Three areas I care about when considering whether to use a company are:

  • Security

  • Privacy

  • Design

And the most common entities I’m comparing are Google and Apple (and sometimes Android).

As I’ve said many times, I think Google is extraordinarily respectable establishment. I feel like at the top of the organization they have goals and aspirations that operate at the human scale, not just at the technology scale. Strategically, I think they’re a more noble company than Apple is.

The problem is that I need to map what’s happening in practice as well, right here on the ground. And the reality seems far different there. Let’s take each in turn:


I believe iOS has less malware simply because it’s designed to be more closed and more secure than Android. This isn’t because Apple is more secure than Google, or because Google engineers aren’t capable of making a vastly more secure operating system.

I’m sure if there were a competition in that regard, Google would win handily. The point is that Google isn’t even trying. And they’re not trying because it’s against their better interest to do so. Google needs a certain amount of security mixed in with a LOT of openness and enablement of functionality.

This is why Android is an open wound of malware and compromise. It’s not that Google can’t fix it, it’s that Google doesn’t want to fix it. They’re making plenty of billions as it is, thank you, and having everyone able to make any kind of app is helping them not hurting them.

If they were to close and harden their platform in the way that Apple has, it would harm their business model. So they don’t. There is no sense in getting bothered by it; it’s just the reality.

Google is an advertising company. Apple is a hardware company. This is why one is more secure than the other. It has nothing to do with capabilities and everything to do with incentives.


Apple’s Cook just came out and said,

…which is another way of saying what I opened with. Because Apple is all about a lifestyle experience, and you’re paying them for that, they’re able to put effort into protecting your privacy.

How? By trying to collect as little information about you as possible.

Google doesn’t really have this option. The more information they have about you the better. Again, it’s not that Google is evil or bad or anything like that. It’s simply a different business model.


This one is quite different from the others, but worth mentioning anyway. Design and aesthetic matter a lot to me.

Apple, as a lifestyle experience company, has its incentives perfectly aligned with that desire of mine. Their products are constantly being interacted with in a direct and tangible way, and so their focus is on exactly what I am looking for.

With Google they’re providing backend services for the most part. They need design the same way they need security: Enough. They need just the right amount to not scare people off, but it’s not the main focus in any way.

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And it shouldn’t be. Again, the goal is to get more people using your stuff, not to build the most secure or private or beautiful products out there. If they wanted to do that they absolutely could.

Ideals and tradeoffs

Ideally all these jagged weaknesses would go away.

Android is riddled with malware, and isn’t design focused, but Google could host an Apple streaming event on an engineer’s laptop without a glitch. And I wouldn’t trust my core email to Apple if they paid me to. I feel like availability would be a key issue, and it’d take them years to match Google Apps for Work

This is why I use Google services for email and use Apple products to view them. I don’t want to look at any interface that Google makes. Even Gmail is becoming an eyesore in my opinion. But at least it works. It’s always there. It’s consistent and fast. They rock at that stuff.

And I haven’t really wanted to use services from Apple. I’m starting to more and more with iCloud storage and all the backend stuff coming in Yosemite and iOS 8. And I think Apple is improving quickly. But they’re not even in the same sport as Google.

So I live in both worlds for now.


When you’re looking at a technology platform, or recommending one for someone else, instead of asking what a company does well, ask yourself why they do it well.

That answer will often guide you far more than anything else.

I prefer Apple to Google in most things because I think their incentivization model for security, privacy, and design are tightly bound to my own, whereas Google’s—as an advertising company—are not.

This doesn’t mean Apple will always be more secure, or have better privacy, or have better design. What it means is that expecting the opposite is to swim upstream against the economics of both companies, which I think is a bad idea.