When Eric Schmidt met Steve Jobs— And Android met iOS


Following is an excerpt from the new book “How Google Works,” by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg:

On a sunny spring day in March 2010, Eric [Schmidt] sat in his car at the intersection of Embarcadero Avenue and El Camino Real in Palo Alto, looking at the trees surrounding Stanford’s football stadium and reflecting on the past couple of hours and waiting for the light to change.

He had just come from having coffee with Apple CEO Steve Jobs at a restaurant called Califia. The two had sat outside at the California-cuisine-oriented cafe, discussing Google’s growing mobile operating system, Android. Steve was convinced that the open-source operating system was built on intellectual property created by Apple. Eric responded that we hadn’t used Apple’s IP and had in fact built Android on our own. But his argument was to no avail. “They are going to fight us,” he thought.

Eric first met and started working with Steve Jobs in 1993, when Eric was at Sun and Steve was at NeXT Computer. NeXT was built using a computer language called Objective-C, and Eric and a few others traveled to NeXT’s offices to hear Steve give them an update. Steve started extolling the virtues of Objective-C and trying to convince the computer scientists from Sun that they needed to use it in the next-generation programming framework they were developing.

Steve and Eric built a friendship over the years, and in the summer of 2006 Eric was invited to join the Apple board. Before he accepted the job, he and Steve had a conversation about the potential conflicts of interest between Apple and Google. Apple was working on the iPhone, and Google had been working on a mobile operating system for about a year, having purchased Andy Rubin’s company, Android, in August 2005.

The definition of what Android would produce was still in flux, but at the time it looked like it would be an open-source operating system without a user interface (other companies would build the UI). Our hope was that Android could become the software guts for phones built by companies like Motorola, Nokia, or Samsung, who would build their own designs and applications. Both Android and the iPhone were in their early stages, and Eric joined the Apple board in August.

The Apple iPhone launched in June 2007, and it was nearly perfect. It was designed and optimized to be connected to the Internet, and it worked to the level of seamless convenience that was just great. Later that year, the Android team posted a YouTube video that unveiled with they have been working on. Steve scrutinized the video and concluded that the user experience it portrayed was too much like the iPhone’s and its underlying operating system, iOS. Eric ultimately stepped down from the Apple board in August 2009, and the legal skirmishes between the companies and their partners continue today.

The most important aspect of the Android/iOS saga is how it demonstrates two different ways to achieve innovation.

With Android, Google bet on the superior economics of an open platform and on our ability to navigate the fragmentation that results from such openness. Android is — and we mean this in the most positive way — out of control. The software source code is available to anyone to use for free, under the Apache license agreement. This “open source” model means anyone can take the operating system and do what they want with it; Android is the sand in the sandbox.

Apple represents the opposite approach. IOS code is closed, and applications that want to be on the App Store must receive Apple’s formal approval. Steve always believed that the best experience for the consumer comes from maintaining complete control of everything. He paid tremendous attention to details in everything he and his company did, with a singular purpose of creating the best possible products. This showed in his extraordinary product presentations to his board, which were always highly orchestrated and produced as if they were Broadway shows.

Apple’s control model works not just because of Steve Jobs’s excellence, but also because of how he organized the company. At Apple — just like Google — the leaders are product people with technical backgrounds. When you build a team of great, smart creatives, and put the world’s uber-smart creative in charge, then you have a good chance of being right most of the time. And when you are right most of the time, then a highly controlled model can yield tremendous innovation.

Excerpted from the book “How Google Works,” by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, with Alan Eagle. © 2014 by Google, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

Eric Schmidt served as Google’s CEO from 2001 to 2011. During that time he shepherded the company’s growth from a Silicon Valley startup to a global technology leader that today has more than $55 billion in annual revenue. He is now Google’s executive chairman.

Jonathan Rosenberg joined Google in 2002, and managed the design and development of the company’s consumer, advertiser and partner products, including Search, Ads, Gmail, Android, Apps and Chrome. He is currently an adviser to Google CEO Larry Page.

Alan Eagle is a director of executive communications at Google.

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