Opinion

The Great Debate

Inside the Apple and Google smartphone war

This is an excerpt from DOGFIGHT: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution by Fred Vogelstein, published in October 2013 by Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

By 2010 Apple and Google were attacking each other on every possible front: in the courts, in the media, and in the marketplace. Android’s surge in popularity was astonishing, and Andy Rubin, Eric Schmidt, and the rest of Google made no secret of their glee. It seemed that every chance they got during 2010 they would expound on how many monthly activations Android had racked up and how mobile devices were going to change the future of Google and the world. In an April 2010 interview with the New York Times, Rubin even predicted that Android was going to rule the entire mobile universe.

The year before he had been worried that Google would abandon Android and that he and his team would need to job hunt. Now he confidently proclaimed, “It [Android] is a numbers game. When you have multiple OEM’s [phone manufacturers] building multiple products in multiple product categories, it’s just a matter of time” before Android overtakes other smartphone platforms such as iPhone and BlackBerry.

It was as if little else about Google mattered anymore. That wasn’t really true, but it wasn’t a huge exaggeration either. In 2010, Android started the year with 7 million users. By year-end it had grown to 67 million and was adding three hundred thousand new customers a day. Android itself wasn’t making money yet, but it was heading there fast. More important, it was accelerating the revenue and profit growth of other Google applications such as search and YouTube, and it was getting more people to sign up for Google accounts and give Google their credit card information.

The more people used Android, the more Google searches they did and the more ads they clicked on. Google still made most of its money from searches on laptops and desktops. But everyone at the top of the company knew desktop ads wouldn’t be the dominant source of revenue forever. Soon, fewer and fewer people would be buying those devices, and more and more would be buying smartphones and other mobile gadgets with Internet access.

Google’s greatest skill – and challenge

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By Jeff Jarvis
Jarvis is the author of “What Would Google Do?” and teaches at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His next book, “Public Parts”, will be published later this year. The miracle of Google was that it could accomplish anything—let alone become the fastest growing company in the history of the world and the greatest disruptive force in business and society today—while being run by a committee, a junta, a council of the gods. In management, as in every other arena of business, technology, and media, Google broke every rule and made new ones. It should not be a shock that Eric Schmidt has stepped aside as CEO and made room for Larry Page. Schmidt was the prince regent who ruled until the boy king could take the throne while training him to do so. We knew that this would happen. We just forgot that it would. When I interviewed Schmidt a few weeks ago and asked about pressure over privacy, China, and lobbying, he said, “This is not the No. 1 crisis at Google.” What is? “Growth,” he said, “just growth.” Scale is Google’s greatest skill and greatest challenge. It scaled search (vs. quaint Yahoo, which thought it could catalogue this web thing). It scaled advertising (vs. the media companies that today don’t know how to grow, only shrink). It is scaling mobile (by giving away Android). It has tried to scale innovation (with its 20 percent rule)—but that’s the toughest. How does Google stay ahead of Facebook strategically? The war between the two of them isn’t over social. The next, great scalable opportunity and challenge is mobile, which in the end will translate into local advertising revenue. Mobile will give Google (or Facebook or Groupon or Twitter or Foursquare … we shall see) the signals needed to target content, services, search, and advertising with greater relevance, efficiency, and value than ever. As Schmidt told broadcasters in Berlin last year: “We know where you are. We know what you like.” Local is a huge, unclaimed prize. The question is how to scale sales. I have no special insight into the Googleplex. But I have to imagine that when the company’s three musketeers sat down and asked themselves what impediments could restrain their innovation and growth, they were smart enough and honest enough to finally answer, “us.” As well as their holy trinity worked setting strategy and reaching consensus—the one thing I did hear from inside Google was that nothing happened if they did not agree—it has become apparent that Google became less nimble and more clumsily uncoordinated. Google is working on two conflicting and competing operating system strategies, Android and Chrome. It bungled the launches of Buzz and Wave. It is losing talent to Facebook. It needs clearer vision and strategy and more decisive communication and execution of it. If it’s obvious to us it had to be obvious to them that that couldn’t come from Largey- plus-Eric. Google, like its founders, is growing up. It needs singular management. So let’s hope that Schmidt did his most important job well—not managing but teaching. Now we will watch to see who Larry Page really is and where his own vision will take Google. Will he give the company innovative leadership and can Sergey Brin give it leadership in innovation? I imagine we will see a new support structure for Page built from below now rather than from the side. I’m most eager to see how he will cope with speaking publicly for the company. Schmidt’s geeky sense of humor was not grokked by media. (When he set off a tempest in the news teapot saying we should all be able to change our names at age 21 and start over with youthful indiscretions left behind us, he was joking, folks. Really, he was.) Page is even less show-bizzy. As for Schmidt: I have gained tremendous respect for him as a manager, thinker, leader. His next act will likely surprise is more than today’s act. Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?, teaches at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His next book, Public Parts, will be published later this year.

The miracle of Google was that it could accomplish anything—let alone become the fastest growing company in the history of the world and the greatest disruptive force in business and society today—while being run by a committee, a junta, a council of the gods.

In management, as in every other arena of business, technology, and media, Google broke every rule and made new ones.

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