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Taking Sides In The Apple vs. Google Skirmish
Over the weekend the New York Times ran an article that summarized and largely substantiated all the rumor and innuendo about the increasingly contentious relationship between Apple and Google. A hot topic on Techmeme over the weekend, the following excerpt captures the essence of the piece:
While the discord between Apple and Google is in part philosophical and involves enormous financial stakes, the battle also has deeply personal overtones and echoes the ego-fueled fisticuffs that have long characterized technology industry feuds. (Think Intel vs. A.M.D., Microsoft vs. everybody, and so on.)
Yet according to interviews with two dozen industry watchers, Silicon Valley investors and current and former employees at both companies — most of whom requested anonymity to protect their jobs or business relationships — the clash between Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Jobs offers an unusually vivid display of enmity and ambition.
At the heart of their dispute is a sense of betrayal: Mr. Jobs believes that Google violated the alliance between the companies by producing cellphones that physically, technologically and spiritually resembled the iPhone. In short, he feels that his former friends at Google picked his pocket.
This morning XML co-creator Tim Bray announced he was taking a job with Google as Developer Advocate, trying to rally developers to the Android cause. He decries Apple’s “closed” approach vs. Google’s “open” one:
The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord’s pleasure and fear his anger.
I hate it.
I hate it even though the iPhone hardware and software are great, because freedom’s not just another word for anything, nor is it an optional ingredient.
While Apple’s content censorship is extremely problematic and bad form, Google’s approach to Android isn’t exactly laissez–faire either. One source I spoke with recently argued that Google has exercised progressively more control over Android since its inception, culminating in the Nexus One.
Hints of possible frustration from at least one Android handset OEM can be found in the recent announcement that Motorola had formed “a global alliance with Microsoft Corp. to deploy Bing services on Motorola devices powered by Android.” While the Motorola-Bing announcement came in the context of China and finding a mobile search substitute for Google, given the company’s likely withdrawal from that market, pretty clearly this was also intended to “send a message” that if Android is “open” that involves search too.
Meanwhile Google search executive RJ Pittman has reportedly jumped from Google to Apple. The companies were at one point being investigated by the Department of Justice for an alleged handshake deal to avoid poaching each other’s employees. It would seem, if that deal existed, it’s now over.
The New York Times article exposes personal animosity driven by a sense of “betrayal” over the alleged copying of the iPhone by Andoid, which can certainly be persuasively argued. However, copying of features is common in technology and Apple’s own early GUI interface innovations were arguably copied or “heavily inspired” by work previously done at Xerox PARC.
To the extent that Apple is guided in product decision making by Steve Jobs’ personal sense of indignation or injustice it may make choices that are foolish or bad for its products. So far that hasn’t happened but I’m sure we’re only at the end of “Act I” of the unfolding Apple vs. Google drama.