It was one of those experiences that every Geek has where things go from this ought to work to this isn’t really working to this is just broken… Let me back up a bit, I was trying to get my company’s webcal feed to work with my phone yesterday. Should be simple right? Webcal is after all an open standard and Android, the software stack powering my phone is an open platform right? Surely there must be a way. So I do a bit of searching and sure enough there’s a way. It’s overly complicated but I’ll give it a shot. First I log into my Google Account then go to my Google Calendar and then I find “Other Calendars” click on the too subtle arrow to get a menu where I can subscribe to a calendar, paste in the url save go back to the calendar and find that the webcal feed is displayed Yeah! Done? Nope, check my phone and I have to go into Calendar hit the menu button then “More” then “Calendars” and tap the check box next to my new calendar. Okay, back to calendar and there’s my calendar. Great! Done? I thought so…
A couple hours later I get an alert on my computer telling me I have a new event in my calendar, I checked it out on my Mac using iCal and on a whim pulled out my phone to see if the new event was on my phone, it wasn’t. Okay I’ll just go and refresh the calendar… Settings, Accounts Google, Sync… Nope still not there. Go to my Google Calendar nope not there either and there is no way to manually sync my subscribed calendars what? Turns out that Google syncs subscribed calendars every 4-6 days and gives you the user no control over when they sync your subscribed calendars. This is fine if I’m subscribed to say the calendar of Flyers games which really doesn’t change that often and it saves the Flyers and Google a lot of network traffic and thus server load which in the long analysis means money. It does not work so well for my business calendar which can change from hour to hour. The simple fix would be for Google to implement a calendar refresh hint option, so when you subscribe you get the choice to refresh the subscribed calendar monthly, weekly, daily or hourly. Go a head Google default to monthly and save network traffic for lame things like national holidays which hardly ever change.
But let’s think about this a bit more. What’s really happening is Google is pushing me into their cloud. Not into The Cloud ie. the internet for all of us non-marketing speak types. Google in their push to get consumers to commit their data to the cloud doesn’t want them using their company’s cloud or Apple’s cloud but Google’s cloud exclusively. There’s a logic here, you are Google’s product and advertisers are their clients but if you the product split your time between Google’s Cloud, Facebook’s cloud and a corporate cloud then Google knows less about you and consequently you are less valuable to their clients. So Google has rejected a working system subscribe to a webcal feed on your phone and set on your phone to sync the feed hourly, daily or weekly as fit your usage and data plan; a system that Apple has embraced for their highly successful iPhones, iPods and iPads, for an overly complex system in hopes of increasing product value, that’s you remember.
What’s the end result? Google is hurting product value due to short term thinking. By making the Android too complex they fail to inspire brand loyalty. iPhones users rave about their phones but I rarely hear the same level of enthusiasm from Android users. So I think there are a couple of possibilities. First, people may tough it out but that’s not going to happen because this Android’s features are easy to use, so Google’s going to have to innovate, subsidize or go home. Second, those Android users may embrace the closed Apple ecosystem looking for a better user experience when their cellular contract is up and Google looses product. Third people may just walk away from the cloud. By being a less democratic world than the internet, Cloud’s like Google, Facebook and Apple’s iCloud get in the road so people don’t use them. People may even go so far as to abandon smart phones. Fourth, Google gets the pictures and fixes the problem. By offering a more open system than Apple, they could crush Apple in the mobile realm. Who wouldn’t pay to be free of iTunes? But this is going to mean long term thinking and compromising with their end users giving up short term lock-in for long term loyalty by building the features that users want; namely for the phone to just work.