Game on: Google and Apple no longer BFFs

Eric Schmidt by Charles HaynesThree years ago, on August 29, 2006, Apple announced that Google CEO Eric Schmidt had been elected to their board of advisors. Today, he resigned that seat.

TechMeme has all the coverage you need, including a useful post from Erick Shonfeld that poses the question “What happens when the enemy of your enemy is no longer your friend?

For some reason, this news has me feeling giddy — but the feeling’s mixed between excitement and apprehension. Look, I’m a fan of both Apple and Google products. I love Apple’s execution and I love Google’s commitment to open source — and the two of them working together made the web, actually, a better place.

Though much is being made about Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice app, I have a hard time believing that that’s the root cause of their break up. Instead, I think it’s all about timing — and, as the press release points out — that Apple and Google are competing more and more in maturing markets like mobile and cloud computing — and that that kind of competition is only likely to increase. At the same time, I think you can read more significance into that comment — by considering how Apple sees itself.

In 2006, Apple’s boilerplate at the end of the Schmidt press release read:

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning desktop and notebook computers, OS X operating system, and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital music revolution with its iPod portable music players and iTunes online music store.

Today, they described themselves this way (emphasis mine):

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning computers, OS X operating system and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital media revolution with its iPod portable music and video players and iTunes online store, and has entered the mobile phone market with its revolutionary iPhone.

Note the missing distinction between “notebook” and “desktop” computers — Apple just makes “award-winning computers” now. Also note the additional emphasis on “video players”, “iTunes online store” and their entrance into the “mobile phone market”.

I think it’s these things which spell out the direction that Apple sees itself going in — areas that put it squarely in competition with Google.

I also can’t shake the feeling that Apple is going to do something interesting with search for continuously connected digital devices (whether phone or tablet).

To that end, Apple may well launch their own Spotlight search engine that does more than just crawl the web: through its integration with its MobileMe service it will become the central hub through which you access all of your devices, media, data and friends, family and contacts. All the pieces seem to be falling into place — even if this is all still five years out.

Just think about: what if Apple did a massive “search and replace” for all of Google’s services in their iPhone and on the desktop (think: Safari, Core Location, etc) with their own home-built services. Is such an action really all that unlikely anymore with Schmidt’s departure from Apple’s board?

For shits and giggles, I mocked up what such a Spotlight search might look like. Pretty eh?

Search with Spotlight

6 Comments

  1. Scott Seely said
    at 11am on Aug 3rd # |

    Chris– I think that this might just be about a conflict of interest between Google and Apple. Google is doing a bunch of stuff behind Android and that might not sit well with the Apple board. As such, it’s unethical for Schmidt to help direct Apple as he could help direct it over a cliff if he wanted. Likewise, he’s doing a disservice to Google if he doesn’t push Apple over that cliff.

    This would be like Jobs sitting on the Microsoft board– just ridiculous.

  2. at 11am on Aug 3rd # |

    @Scott Well of course it’s a conflict of interest as far as profits go, but there is a larger agenda of openness that goes beyond just corporate interests. The overall trend in the tech community, both devs and users, is towards open, free, cross-platform use. By Apple continuing to push its lock-down strategy, it is opposing a trend that exists within its customer-base and developer-base.

  3. bunterberg said
    at 11am on Aug 3rd # |

    hi Chris – I like the idea of an Apple Über-search that joins loose ends. Even more I’d like that service (and products) to be owned by Google. The App store walled garden sellout is just stupid …

    Well and what did Microsoft in this game? – They’ve educated both players (at least in Europe) on how you to deal with challenges regarding (shady) competition regulations through its longstanding and illegal practice of tying the Internet Explorer to their OS. ;)

  4. bunterberg said
    at 1am on Aug 4th # |

    hi Chris – I like the idea of an Apple Über-search that joins loose ends. Even more I’d like that service (and products) to be owned by Google. The App store walled garden sellout is just stupid …

    Well and what did Microsoft in this game? – They’ve educated both players (at least in Europe) on how you to deal with challenges regarding (shady) competition regulations through its longstanding and illegal practice of tying the Internet Explorer to their OS. ;)
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  5. SjH said
    at 6pm on Aug 4th # |

    “I love Google’s commitment to open source..” – a commitment which does not extend to the software from which they earn most of their revenue (Adwords, etc.)

  6. Kathy said
    at 1am on Aug 5th # |

    It was a very awkward thing anyway – Google on Apple’s board, it was destined to come to a halt sometime. Also, it does look like things are heating up in that department – with the classic MS vs Apple opposition complemented by a new MS vs Google one and – by the looks of it – an upcoming Google vs Apple one. Ye olde triangle :)

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