Putting “digital” into perspective

Last week I wrote about being a digital company. This week I want to add that being digital isn’t always a good thing. Two examples.

One: Apple’s versus Google’s voice recognition. I don’t regard Apple as a digital company, and I do regard Google as one. That’s perhaps an odd statement, but by “digital” I mean a company with an internet and software engineering bias. I regard Apple as a technology company, but its heart is in hardware. Google has been working on voice recognition and interpretation for a long time, and Apple has launched Siri. One Google developer commented that their approach was to find an elegant algorithm that performs the job; Apple’s solution solves the problem by pushing it to a remote server and running it through a ton of “if” statements. Google will have a more elegant, digital solution; Apple has solution which works, today.

Two: There are plenty of exciting pure-digital startups, but very, very few of them with a proven business model. A colleague was describing to me a certain investor like this: “He will always prefer a good business with a mediocre technology over a poor business with a great technology.” That’s difficult for a digital technologist to hear, but it’s an unavoidable fact of life; that investor would not be such a success if they didn’t have that perspective.

Ultimately technology has to be about something. And while many of us may want to channel our digital skills and passion into doing digital things, that won’t be sustainable unless it’s balanced against everything else that is important to people.