How the Chromebook Rips Off Apple

For as much of a professed Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) user as I've become, I never really subscribed to the Google-y equivalents of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Office suite -- until, that is, I tried the Chromebook.

The word-processing service, in particular, solved an important problem for me. Rather than pack up my Mac and accessories just to write while waiting for my kids to finish their after-school activities, I uploaded some of my Foolish article templates into Google Docs and started writing. Then I built a few folders -- Docs calls them "collections" -- to replicate the Mac's Finder. Then I started sharing with some of my editors. Then I checked to see whether formatting created in Docs would hold up in Word. Everything worked as advertised, and I was hooked.

Now I start every day working in Google Docs. (I'm writing this piece on the Chromebook I received for my attendance at this year's Google I/O developer conference.) Were I to be assured that all the ways I've tricked out Gmail would remain intact on transfer, I'd move to Google Apps tomorrow.

Learning from Apple, a little at a time
And I'm not the only one. There are now some 30 million Google Apps users, roughly 60% of which are corporate, business, or individual users. Rising demand for the Big G's business suite has pushed Mr. Softy into creating Office 365, essentially an online version of its popular productivity suite.

Judging by the reviews, Microsoft users will like what they get in Office 365. But for collaboration and cross-platform usefulness, I find Google's software to be more appealing. The Chromebook aids the effort. 

For its part, Microsoft wanted me to download a variety of tools to make Office 365 for the Mac work. Talk about defeating the purpose of signing up for a cloud service.

By contrast, the zero-maintenance Chromebook stands out in that it demonstrates how easily Google's software translates between machines. Work on whatever PC you like in the office, and take a Chromebook on the road. So long as your enterprise is outfitted with Google Apps, you'll be up to date wherever you are, and you'll have access to all the collaborative tools the search king makes available. (Which, over time, may include Google+.)

Any of this sound familiar? It should. It's a variation of Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) "it just works" argument, with Google CEO Larry Page making the pitch rather than Steve Jobs. 

Why the strategy works
I call it the difference between marketing features and marketing services. Marketing features means offering a checklist. ("You can do this, and this, and this, and, oh, look, this, too!") Marketing services involves solving a problem or granting a wish. ("If you buy this, you'll sleep better and have more fun.") The Chromebook is a service sell, and a good one at that.

How can I know? We've seen other cloud-computing providers use the "it just works" approach in pitching effectively. Among the best at this is salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM  ) chief executive Marc Benioff. In March, he and his team masterfully demonstrated a variety of ways the company's new Service Cloud 3 customer-service suite integrates technologies without forcing users to configure anything.

See? The "it just works" pitch … works. No turtleneck or spectacles required.

That's why I think Google is on to something. At the very least, the story is right. But Google still has to execute, and given its many tablet fumbles, there's no guarantee the Big G will make good. I think it will, but I've also had my say. Now it's your turn to weigh in. Use the comments section below to let us know whether you think the Chromebook will aid Google Apps adoption.

And if you'd like to learn more about the disruptive power of cloud computing, try this free video report. You'll walk away with a winning pick from our Rule Breakers scorecard and a better understanding the Web's role in reshaping entire industries. Watch the video -- it's 100% free.

Fool contributorTim Beyers is a member of theMotley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim'sportfolio holdings andFoolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insightsdelivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Microsoft, and Apple.Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft, salesforce.com, Apple, and Google, creating a diagonal call position in Microsoft and a bull call spread position in Apple, and shorting salesforce.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (5)

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  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2011, at 10:14 PM, FreeRange1 wrote:

    "roughly 60% of which [google app users] are corporate, business, or individual " - What? Who are the other 40%, monkeys? As to the author's suggestion that somehow this is all due to the magic of the Chromebook, what nonsense. You can use google apps from any laptop, like a brilliantly designed Macbook Air, without getting one of these stripped-down utility devices.

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2011, at 10:22 PM, JJMSpartan wrote:

    Hiya Tim,

    I think it would be best if the article had been titled "how Google Docs copies Apple's strategy". The Chromebook is immaterial to all of your points in the article except for the fact you were given it for free. Google docs works the same from any connected computer with a supported browser (which is pretty much every computer out there). Heck,I even use it from my iPad.

    Your points about "it just works" are spot on though - when speaking about google docs. Good luck playing Angry Birds on the chromebook though... ;-)

    Sparty

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2011, at 10:29 PM, K826 wrote:

    Copy Apple? Hello? The two companies have completely different approaches. Apples forces developers to create apps in a proprietary language for native installation on their devices and Google uses open web based technologies. Apps on Google App Store can run on any device that feature a full web browser and don't have to be downloaded before usage. So because Google Docs "just work", it's a copy of Apple? Is it not supposed to "just work"? From one developer who creates for both Apple and Google, I can tell you that the Google approach is more sustainable and the future of computing... Apple will soon be copying, you can bet on that. Apple didn't invent the PC or the tablet or the world. From a technology perspective, Google is far ahead. What a ridiculous article..

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2011, at 11:01 PM, DefunctAcct wrote:

    Dear K826,

    On one hand, I totally agree that Google neither rips off nor copies Apple in this case. It is what software should do for us. On the other hand, I disagree with a couple of your claims.

    Apple will soon be copying? No. Apple is neither copying or ripping off Google's Chromebook. If anything, Apple has been doing "just works" since 1984 and it is the only reason how Apple has survived long enough to be where it is today.

    From a technology perspective, Google being "far ahead" is meaningless. Far ahead in what? Search engine algorithms, knowledge base and server architecture experience? Yes but that has nothing to do with Apple because Apple is not in that space.

    What is Google ahead in then? OS? No, Google did not create its own OS from scratch, Apple did. User interface? No, Google was not even into UI design until it bought Android while Apple has been in the forefront of UI design and ease of use since Lisa.

    Let us agree that Apple and Google are both striking out to implement their own strategy and neither one is copying or ripping off the other.

    Cheers!

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2011, at 11:10 PM, techy46 wrote:

    IBM invented the PC, Microsoft invented the tablet :) Al Gore invented the world

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2011, at 5:03 AM, bikesncats wrote:

    Hi Tim,

    I had always considered Apple products to be toys.

    Your article is pretty interesting, however, after having switched to Google a little over a year ago (mainly becuase I was totally fed up with MSFT's constant problems and time consuming updates and fixes that never work) I am now as fed up with android and the google line of products.

    Google software being new and the need for some patience because it will be the best product, soon...sound familiar? Same problems, same excuses. Google is as plagued as Microsoft and the hype will move on because, like with MSFT, soon never comes...

    I am now switching to Apple, becuase Apple works...as far as the toys are concerned, I will use what I need and ignore the rest.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2011, at 9:04 AM, deemery wrote:

    > I had always considered Apple products to be toys.

    I bought my first personal computer in Oct '78 (TRS-80 Model I). I first used a Mac in mid '85. What I have never understood (having used just about every flavor of Windows after 3.1 and before Vista), why anyone puts up with the massive annoyances that is Windows.

    > as far as the toys are concerned, I will use what I need and ignore the rest.

    And that's the important point! A lot of the technical advantages asserted for Windows and Android are useful -if you want to mess with them-. What I really admire about Mac OS X is how smoothly they put the Apple 'it just works' on top of Unix. So most everything I know about Unix still works under the covers, but I'm not forced to deal with that every day.

    The World Wide Web had a similar start, I remember people saying "It's just a toy." But it's a Very Useful toy, with the ability to ignore stuff you don't care about, to get useful results.

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