Competition and Partisanship

While writing about window management in iOS, and comparing it to what Microsoft had done in Windows 8, it occurred to me that we truly live in amazing times. The fact that three different companies are giving each other a run for their money on OS design is fantastic for people who actually use these devices. I'm growing more and more tired of the partisan reporting that happens in the tech industry, where people pledge allegiance to one or the other multinational corporation and support everything that corporation does, while automatically dismissing and belittling everything everybody else does, particularly if other companies copy features from the one company they like.1

This type of jingoistic support for one's chosen platform, combined with acerbic, often sarcastic dismissal of the competition, helps nobody — not even the company being supported. That company would be better off if its own users provided honest feedback on its shortcomings, not fawning, thoughtless support.

Indeed, people who buy Apple products should be ecstatic that Microsoft and Google are competing with Apple, and vice-versa.2 Everybody should be happy if each company takes each other company's greatest ideas, and improves upon them. The last thing we want is another 90s-type situation, where one company controls 95% of the market, and as a direct result, progress just halts for a decade.

I'm really hoping that we're not living through another Amiga/Atari era, were we have a bit of competition for a few years, but eventually, some companies die, others fade into irrelevance, and one company ends up owning most of the market.

In fact, I wish we'd see even more competition! I wish Samsung would get serious with its own OS. I wish HP would revive Web OS. I wish Blackberry would stop making bad decisions, and start kicking ass again. I wish smaller companies like Jolla, Ubuntu, and the Firefox OS team would be better able to compete with the big guys. I wish Microsoft would get more credit for the progress it has made in UI design, instead of just getting crap for changing things from how they were in Windows 95. And I wish people would look outside of the confines of their chosen platform, and acknowledge the positive contributions that other companies are making. Get out of your bubbles!3 Other systems are great and interesting and useful, too!

This goes further than just interaction design. For example, I hope Apple keeps holding Google's feet to the fire on the topic of privacy and encryption, and I hope Google's more open stance on app development and on platform access will eventually force Apple to follow suit.4

The more competition, the better the products. The worst thing that could possible happen to each one of us would be for our favorite company to win, and for everybody else to stop competing.

(This was originally published as part of the window management article.)

  1. Regardless of what device you're currently using, unless you actually own huge amounts of stock in one of these companies, or work for them, please remember that the manufacturer of the device or the OS you're using doesn't really care about you. There's no need to feel emotionally attached to a legal entity; it can't feel the same towards you. Obviously, we humans intuitively do this, we like one company over another, but I think it's worth consciously reminding ourselves from time to time that this is a one-way street. ↩︎

  2. I'm only using Apple aficionados as the example in this sentence because I'm one of them, not because they're particularly guilty of this. The situation on the Android and Microsoft (and Linux) sides is similar. It's possible that we Apple customers are a bit more susceptible to "us vs. them" thinking due to Apple's near-death experience in the 90s, but in general, the difference between the groups is small. ↩︎

  3. Case in point: how many of the people who loudly declare Windows 8's attempt to merge desktop and tablet UIs a "terrible idea" have actually used a Surface for any amount of time? ↩︎

  4. As an aside, there's this meme going around that apps are this generation's new art form. I think this is true, but I also think it is a pretty sad statement on this generation that its new art form is one that is effectively controlled by a single multinational corporation that will not allow art that involves political caricatures, overt social criticism, or nudity. If paint and canvas had those same restrictions, the only paintings we'd have from the old masters would be still lifes of fruit bowls. ↩︎

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