On Jan 5, Google did a very Apple-like thing. In a presentation at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., the 11-year-old search behemoth unveiled Nexus One- a stylish touchscreen smartphone that runs on the company’s Android operating system, is sold through a Google-operated retail Web site, and greets the market with an advertising tagline (“Web meets phone”) as simple and optimistic as the one Apple used in 2007 to introduce its iPhone (“The Internet in your pocket”).
On the same day, Apple did a very Google-like thing. Steve Jobs, the king of splashy product launches and in-house development, announced a strategic acquisition. For $275 million, Apple purchased Quattro Wireless, an upstart advertising company that excels at targeting ads to mobile-phone users based on their behavior.
When companies start to imitate one another, it’s usually either an extreme case of flattery, or war. In the case of Google and Apple, it’s both. Separated by a mere 10 miles in Silicon Valley, the two have been on famously good terms for almost a decade. Apple CEO Jobs and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, both 54, spent years in separate battles against Microsoft while Schmidt was at Sun Microsystems (JAVA) and Novell. Over time, they went from spiritual allies to strategic ones.
Tensions in Silicon Valley’s special relationship began to emerge in late 2007, when Google announced plans to develop Android for mobile phones. Apple had unveiled its iPhone in January of that year, and it was clear that the two companies would spar in the smartphone business. Still, both were niche players, with more formidable rivals in companies like Nokia, Samsung, and Research In Motion. Only after software developers began creating thousands of mobile apps, and it became clear that phones would become the computers of the future, did the conflicts begin to grow serious.
Now the companies have entered a new, more adversarial phase. With Nexus One, Google, which had been content to power multiple phonemakers’ devices with Android, enters the hardware game, becoming a direct threat to the iPhone. With its Quattro purchase, Apple aims to create completely new kinds of mobile ads, say three sources familiar with Apple’s thinking. The goal isn’t so much to compete with Google in search as to make search on mobile phones obsolete.
The tech industry has had its share of legendary rivalries: IBM vs Digital Equipment Corp, Microsoft vs Netscape, America Online vs. Yahoo! Apple vs Google could dwarf them all. Both companies are revered by consumers with a passion usually reserved for movie stars and pro athletes. They have multibillion-dollar war chests, visionary founders, and ambitions for smartphones, Web browsers, music, and tablet computers that set them on a collision course.
Some analysts believe the Apple-Google battle is likely to get much rougher in the months ahead. Apple may soon decide to dump Google as the default search engine on its devices, primarily to cut Google off from mobile data that could be used to improve its advertising and Android technology. Apple might cut a deal with–gasp!–Microsoft to make Bing Apple’s engine of choice, or even launch its own search engine.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that Apple and Google are headed for more conflict. Android is a threat to an iPhone business that has quickly come to represent more than 30% of Apple’s sales. Meanwhile, nearly all the growth in search is expected to come from mobile devices. That sets the stage for a new main event in the tech sector. This rivalry is going to accelerate innovation. Apple goes pretty fast, but having someone chasing you always makes you go faster. This is going to be good for consumers.
Still, in a battle over the future of computing, friendship will almost surely be a casualty of progress.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz. About to start the second year of BTech course in electrical engineering from IIT-BHU, he believes that versatility is his USP. A footballer and a quiz enthusiast, for him writing is “a way to get your point across and not to show off your vocabulary!”