Eric Schmidt: Apple v. Google More Important Than PC Platform Wars

The fight between Apple's iOS and Google's Android platforms is the defining fight in technology today—more important than the PC platform wars of prior decades—according to no less a personage than Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. In an interview with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, Mr. Schmidt argued that the phone and smartphone market dwarfs the PC industry, and is therefore more important.

Eric Schmidt

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt from 92Y Interview

Mr. Schmidt was talking to the AllThingsD cofounders at 92Y, and the full interview is embedded below the fold. It's a very interesting interview that we recommend. Topics of discussion include Apple Maps, the rivalry between Apple and Google, his thoughts on Microsoft, and much more.


"There's a huge race now, specifically between Apple and the Android platform for additional features of one kind or another" Mr. Schmidt said. "The Android/Apple platform fight is the defining fight in the industry today. Here's the argument: Apple has put god knows how many thousands of people and engineers into making this very good platform even better. The number of apps they have, so forth and so on, all the content...everybody here knows it if you're an iPhone user. Think about all the partnerships they have."

"What's the scale of that?" he asked. "It's an enormously large platform for developers, knowledge, cloud services, and so forth. Surveys that we've seen on unit volume indicate that there are more than four times as many Android phones as there are iPhones."

Having painted that picture, Mr. Schmidt moved in for the kill, by saying that, "The Google platform—Android—is even larger."

We would note however, that he's mixing analogies. This is not any kind of refutation of his point, but it bears pointing out: Google's user base is larger at this point, but the very things he talked about on iOS—apps and content, "so forth and so on"—are bigger and richer on iOS than on Google's Android, even with the larger base.

Nonetheless, he reminded the audience that Google recently announced 1.3 million Android activations per day, and said that within the next year there will be a billion Android devices in the wild.

"You've not seen platform fights on this scale," he said, making it more important than the PC wars of the past. "And I go back to who the beneficiary is: you, the user."

Gang of Four

Two years ago, Mr. Schmidt identified a Gang of Four in technology that include Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple. These companies, he argued, are driving the pace of innovation and are making astounding investments in technology, pushing advancements in the process.

When asked why he wasn't including Microsoft in his list, he suggested that Microsoft was being left behind and was less relevant in the mobile space, which—as noted above—is the bigger more important market.

"Let's see what this new set of products does," he said. "You've reviewed Windows 8, and you [Walt Mossberg] understand its qualities, and so forth and so on...everyone I know has moved to the Mac in that space, so we'll see how that plays out."

He added, "They're now behind. They're a well-funded, smart, well-run company, that have not been able to bring out state-of-the-art products in the spaces we're talking about as of yet."

Putting on our best Jim Dalrymple, we'd add, "Yep."

Apple Maps

"Apple should have kept with our Maps," Mr. Schmidt quipped when Kara Swisher brought the subject of Apple Maps and the criticism being leveled against the company for shortcomings in its Google Maps replacement for iOS.

Walt Mossberg fired back, "The counter argument was that you did not maintain feature parity between the instantiation of your Maps on their platform and the instantiation on Android. The big difference, as you're well aware, was automated voice prompted turn-by-turn navigation."

Without specifically stating it, Mr. Schmidt said that this was Apple's fault, and that had Apple not made it clear it was going to do develop its own mapping product, that things might have been different.

According to Mr. Schmidt, "We negotiated all these details with Apple, and the fact of the matter is that they had decided a long time ago to do their own maps. We knew this was coming because they did a series of acquisitions."

He added, "I think that what Apple has learned is that maps are really hard. They really are hard, and we've invested hundreds of millions of dollars in satellite work, airplane work, drive-by work, to get the maps accurate. We think we have the best product in industry."

Kara Swisher didn't let it go at that, however, pushing back with, Why would they keep your maps? It's sort of like letting you in the door that's very..."

Mr. Schmidt replied that Apple did very well using Google Maps for five years, with the unstated suggestion that Google Maps was a big part of why Apple has done well during those five years.

"Apple has done extremely well during the last five years," he said. "Apple has done very well using our Maps."

When asked what Google would do to get back on iOS, Mr. Schmidt said he wasn't going to comment on unannounced product, and noted that even if Google does do an iOS Google Maps app, Apple would still have to approve it. Mr. Mossberg pointed out that Apple has approved other mapping apps, but Mr. Schmidt countered that Apple hasn't always approved all of Google's apps.

He finished that conversation with, "One way to think about Apple and Google is that these are two very large and important institutions and they're always in communication with each other. So they're always negotiations going on."