The movie “Pirates of Silicon Valley” comes across as somewhat of a fanciful interpretation of the early friendship between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates that became the ultimate industrial rivalry. Those who prefer folklore would find similar epic tales, involving historical figures who became acquainted, struck up fast friendships, but eventually became bitter enemies for one reason or another.
In the case of Jobs and Gates, it was supposedly all about the battle between the Mac OS and Windows to conquer the hearts, minds and especially wallets of PC owners everywhere. However, when Apple and Microsoft staged the burying of the hatchet event at a Macworld Expo, I suppose some felt it was notable that Gates had to be piped in to the auditorium courtesy of a satellite feed. Why was he not present physically? Was this sort charade beneath him, did they fear for his safety if he faced the unwashed Mac masses in person, was it a matter of convenience?
It doesn’t matter, as these two industry pioneers actually did present a decently personable pair when they appeared at a public event some years later and reminisced about the glory days during which their rivalry began.
Most of you probably feel that, when it came to Jobs, it was never just about the money, whereas the cash rewards and the attempt to dominate every industry his company entered meant everything to Gates. Well, at least he plans to give most of it away courtesy of his philanthropic work.
Now some members of the press want you to believe that two tech industry behemoths are poised to begin a new war, may the smartest company win. The players? None other than Steven P. Jobs, CEO of Apple, and Dr. Eric Schwartz, CEO of Google.
So how did anyone get the idea that Apple and Google were poised to become enemies?
Certainly it’s not search, search advertising or even Google Apps for that matter. To the best of my knowledge, Apple isn’t contemplating development of its own search engine or an online advertising division. Right now, it uses Google for Safari for personal computers, and that and Yahoo! when it comes to the iPhone version. The various components of Google Apps might duplicate Apple Mail and iWork in a certain basic functionality, but the real target is Microsoft.
All right, there’s the iPhone and Android. I suppose you could say the two companies compete in that area, but Google doesn’t sell phones. Indeed, Apple’s primarily market focus is to use software as a value-added feature in order to move tech gear. Yes, they do sell some software titles, but the vast majority of their earnings originate from hardware. Even iTunes and the App Store are designed to fuel hardware sales. When it comes to Android, most any mobile phone maker can apply.
Operating systems? Sure, there will be a Chrome OS based on Linux, said to be roughly a year away. There will not be a Chrome PC built by Google, however. How they plan to monetize Chrome OS, which will be given away, as with Android, free of charge, is not certain. I would expect it would all be about search-based advertising and use of Google’s own apps to provide much of the heavy lifting.
So without spending a whole lot of time examining the basic makeup and focus of Apple and Google, we can see where they are not, in fact, actual competitors to a large extent. That doesn’t mean that Dr. Schmidt made the wrong decision to step down from Apple’s board. After all, what is he to do when they were talking about operating systems and iPhones, other than to go outside and cool his heels?
Indeed, I wonder if the fact that the Obama administration’s antitrust enforcers are watching over the shoulders of all large companies was sufficient cause for firms with potentially overlapping products and boards to be concerned. In light of the current state of affairs, it made perfect sense for Google’s CEO to leave Apple. I rather suspect the entire decision was as businesslike as the announcement. These two companies know how to play the game.
But that doesn’t make for lurid headlines. There are lots of companies out there that rarely compete, but have corporate relationships in a similar state. No doubt they realized they had to make decisions about filling board positions appropriately.
But those companies aren’t Apple and Google, so the press doesn’t really care, unless they are shown to have engaged in some sort of wrongdoing. And that, my friends, surely isn’t true about Apple and Google. All right, perhaps you can make an argument about backdating stock options and whether the involvement of Steve Jobs was more direct that originally portrayed. But that was then, and this is now. There’s no new fight between tech giants brewing, or at least not the one that some misguided tech writers have been talking about.
If there’s any fight that deserves coverage, it clearly would be the one that involves those old-time adversaries, Apple and Microsoft.