The Latest Battle of the Titans

Over the weekend, this New York Times article described in detail the battle between Apple and Google in the mobile phone market. It makes a good narrative, like reading an interesting saga of a “friend turning foe”.

As the first iPhone came out back in 2005, there was Eric Schmidt on stage with Steve Jobs branding their close partnership. The iPhone was to feature Google search and maps as core application components.

Then Google decided to enter the market with its Android and then Nexus One announcements. Steve Jobs does not like it. When Google wanted to introduce Google Voice on the iPhone, Apple said no. Eric Schmidt had to leave Apple’s board seat, as he was entering into competition with Apple. Then last week, Apple filed a patent violation lawsuit against HTC, a Taiwanese supplier of touch-screen technology for Google.

There is a fundamental difference in approach here. Apple is becoming the old-time “vertical stack” provider of its iPhone platform (proprietary service) with thousands of applications from various suppliers. Google wants an “open platform” via its Android where one can switch service providers. Proprietary business is highly profitable. Open stuff has a “good for humanity” feel, but its hard to make money. The iPhone has captured huge market in a very short time and Jobs does not want any disturbance to that. There is the Apple arrogance of “my way, or the highway”. Google has its own “subtle arrogance” under the veil of  “do no evil’ platitude. It has been trying to find a second “profitable horse” other than search, so far unsuccessful. The smartphone mobile market is the hottest growth market and stakes are very high. So each company wants to be the dominant player.

Microsoft has been trying hard to dominate here, but without much success. There was another weekend article on how many Microsoft employees use the iPhone secretly, as it is anathema inside the Redmond campus. In a bizarre twist, Apple is rumored to be speaking with Microsoft to replace the Google search with Microsoft’s search engine Bing in the iPhone.

There is growing resentment to Apple’s tight control of the iPhone platform and services. It needs to be careful this time and not repeat what happened to the original Mac with its proprietary operating system against the Windows platform with open API’s.

Ultimately both companies will win. Apple will continue to dominate the handset market with the iPhone. But Google will do really well around the mobile advertising market and make tons of money from this part of the market.

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2 responses to “The Latest Battle of the Titans

  1. The insight I got this week was that Apple has basically stepped into the void left by IBM abandoning the PC and NB business. Lenovo never really could fill IBM shoes…just make Thinkpads cheaper, but no innovation or establishment of new standards.

    Apple took advantage of the vaccuum. Now, it is setting the standards, deciding winners, controlling its open features … what is amazing is that with IBM out, Microsoft and Intel are not setting the standards either.

    I think in 5 years, the PC industry will be very different from what we had taken as the status quo for 25 years.

  2. Excellent point, Raj. Yes, the PC as we have known for last 25 years (desktop, laptop) will be very different with smartphone and tablets dominating the landscape.

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