Why are Amazon and Google talking about delivery drones and autonomous robots instead of real products that people can actually buy this holiday season? Last week Jeff Bezos: Amazon CEO, sat down with Charlie Rose of 60 Minutes. This aired on the eve of Cyber Monday: the time when people are thinking about where to continue their shopping spree for the latest and greatest consumer goods. They turn on the TV to find the head of the world's biggest shopping center, quite literally, droning on about autonomous drones.
I'm not complaining about 60 Minutes, or the fact that they devoted so much time to an advertorial about Amazon. I like Amazon. I'm a Prime member. The problem with this piece is that there is no content remotely relevant to the shopping season. Much of the interview was about Amazon's business model, and a look into their fulfillment centers. Frankly, no body cares about the predatory, pricing practices of the store at which they shop. If they did, no one would shop at Amazon, who seems to exist only to put other stores out of business. As predatory businesses go, they are far worse than Walmart.
There is also no one who cares about how their package is delivered. It just doesn't matter. When I order a product online, I don't even know if it will come via UPS, FedEx, DHL, or USPS. It simply doesn't matter. I expect it to come within the period of time I requested. It gets dropped off at my door. I seldom ever see the truck or the driver that delivered it, and quite frankly, could care less just as long as the packages arrive on time, and in good condition. If my package is dropped off by autonomous drone in ten years, I still won't care anymore than I care now about the technology in a UPS truck.
What I want to know from Amazon is, what new and exciting products do they have on offer that I can purchase right now. What do they have on offer at this moment that will make my life better in some tangible way. Why is Amazon not out there making the case for the products they currently sell, rather than a case for a delivery technology that is a very long ways away, if indeed, it ever sees the light of day?
Before tackling that question, we just as well toss Google into the mix. Around the same time, we started getting information about Andy Rubin's latest project. Apparently, he is enamored with robots. The nerd jokes about the former Android master being taken by robots just writes themselves. When it comes to robots, Rubin is apparently a real freakazoid. That makes him a great fit for Google: a company that is working on building robots as its next, big thing. Surely, Millennium Man couldn't be that much further away.
Why are two of the biggest, American companies trying to distract us with sci-fi, geek-gasmic flights of fancy, none of which is anywhere close to becoming a reality? Furthermore, why are we not hearing about Apple's plans to take over the world with its revolutionary, neural interface? The answer to both questions is the same. Apple is what Amazon and Google are not, but desperately want to be.
Apple produces things that people all over the world desperately want to own. Apple does not make the thing for which people have to settle. They make the things for which people save up, own with pride, and cherish. They don't make the things people have to have; they make the things people want to have, and feel like they can't live without. At no point does Apple ever need to promote themselves as "cool". When Apple enters a new, product category, people feel as though they are seeing something for the first time. With Amazon and Google, they feel like they've been there before.
This holiday season, Amazon and Google desperately want to change that narrative. They will do anything to be seen as the cool company with all the innovative, forward-leaning ideas. The obvious problem with their approach is that all of their semi-interesting ideas are vaporware, futuristic pipe dreams with little basis in reality. Never mind the laws from both physics and governments that are not even close to being addressed. The big ideas expressed by these companies are things that no one really needs.
Even if these technologies were on line today, do we really need a book from Amazon in 30 minutes or less, delivered by autonomous drone? About the only thing I need delivered that quickly is a pizza. And I wouldn't trust a drone for that. Stores are not so far away that special delivery by drone is necessary. The technological overhead spent on making this happen would be better spent doing just about anything else. Don't even get me started with robots. Our quest for the mindless, servant class goes high-tech, all so suburbanites no longer have to clean their own floors. I'm sure the starving children of Malaysia see that as a worthy enterprise.
After a full belly, clean clothes, and a safe place to live, those Malaysian children would probably like an iPad, and an internet connection. iTunes U, alone, has the power to alter the future course of a nation. While all of those children have heard of the iPhone, not one of them have ever wished for a delivery drone for Amazon prime members, or a robot, bent on acquiring their personal data. More to the point, not one of them have ever asked for a Kindle Fire, or a Nexus 7.
That, more than anything, is why Amazon and Google are trotting out mockups of fantasies of drones and robots. Perhaps these fictions can gain some traction against the iPad, where $200, consolation prize tablets cannot. More than a year ago, Google introduced their Google Glass project to the world in hopes of steeling some thunder from the shipping, highly successful products of other companies. They are still not ready to announce a real product for consumers.
Apple does not do its R&D in public. It doesn't have to. When they have products that are ready, you will be the first to know. In the meantime, they have plenty on offer that people actually want, and can buy right now. For Apple, R&D is not just a publicity stunt. It is a means of finding answers to real questions, and solutions to real problems. Apple is cool based on the products they produce, not on the basis of the mockups they leak. No matter how hard Amazon and Google try to distract people, it will still not slow the sales of Apple's lineup this holiday season.