Eric Schmidt: Is Google Open? Well, Apple’s Closed

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When asked to explain how his company was open, Google CEO (and former Apple boardmember) Eric Schmidt chose to answer the question by saying that Apple is closed, and that his company did the inverse of what Apple did, and therefore is open. Thus did Mr. Schmidt accomplish what many a corporate executive aspires to do, deftly deploying the red herring and a strawman, mixed with some sleight-of-hand, all in one fell swoop.

The comments took place Tuesday morning at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, the same place Mr. Schmidt said on Monday that open technologies would one day allow developers to make mobile apps as powerful as iPad apps are today.

In a presentation on Tuesday, Mr. Schmidt began a new conversation about Apple by saying his company has a culture of openness when compared to Apple’s “core strategy of closedness.”

When asked about this openness during a question and answer session, rather than speak about how his company is open, he set about to prove said openness by defining Apple’s closedness, instead.

Eric SchmidtEric Schmidt Speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt
Photo source: TechCrunch (via Flickr) 

“It’s easier to understand by opposition,” Schmidt said, according to coverage of the event by VentureBeat and a transcript by TechnologyReview. That opposition is, of course, Apple.

“The easiest comparison to do today is the Apple [iOS app] model,” he explained, acknowledging that said model has “worked very well.” He noted, “You have to use their development tools [which is no longer true - Editor], their hardware, their software, when you submit an application they have to approve it.”

“That would not be open,” he concluded. “So the inverse would be open.”

And since Google is the inverse, it must be open!

In other news, a woman having the mass of a fowl was burned at the stake for being a witch. Details to follow.

If Steve Jobs weighs the same as a duck, Google must be open!

If Steve Jobs weighs the same as a duck, Google must be open…



The follow up question to Mr. Schmidt should have been “isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?”


I disagree with him that those things make them closed. They don’t make them totally open, either, but I think open is more along the lines of being open about what you are doing, etc. So Apple is open as long as it is forthcoming with the fact that not all apps will get into their store. They would be closed if they said they didn’t screen apps and did anyways. Particularly recently, I feel like Apple has made large strides in this area and I applaud them for it. That said, I don’t believe Google is necessarily ‘closed’ either…


“We did the opposite by sitting in on top level board room meetings for a couple of years, then following Apple into the same hardware markets that they broke ground on.”

Bryan Chaffin

Urby, I see it as a fact that Apple offers two closed, proprietary platforms, Mac OS X and iOS. With both, the hardware and software are locked to one another.

That are the very definitions of closed systems.

But, Apple is very open about all that.

I realize that’s pretty close to what you are saying, but I thought it important to make sure we don’t whitewash the fact that Apple’s proprietary systems are closed.

At the same time, however, Google is closed about everything it needs to keep secret to maintain its competitive edge. PageRank, the company’s secret algorithm that makes Google Google, would be the first such secret.

The precise way in which the company prices its ad services is another trade secret the company keeps closed.

There are so many ways to be open and/or closed, but one thing is absolutely sure: Google can in no way prove that it is open by simply not being Apple. It’s literally the stupidest thing I have heard from a Google exec ever.

As smart as he and the legions of brainiacs that work at that company are, it may be the stupidest thing any Google employee has ever said.


Bryan, yes that’s where I was going with that. In fact, I would even take it a step further and say that no business CAN be open in the sense that Schmidt seems to suggest… or they would go out of business pretty quickly I would gather. Being part of a family business myself, I can tell you firsthand that while I can be open with clients about what may have gone wrong with an order, how much leeway I have with prices, or how we process their orders from reception to shipping, to tell when we are having promotions in advance or to release “trade secrets”, would simply be unwise in every sense of the word.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

It sounds like he was being more dismissive than anything, and managed to hit a very sensitive nerve. If I were Schmidt, at some point in the near future, I would correct the statement as follows. This is a visual, so imagine along with me. Schmidt should say that Apple is “open” while holding air quotes. Then he should say that Google is also “open” with the air quotes dropped. He could do the same with “cool”, “relevant”, “sexy”, and “innovative”. Google fans will get the joke, and it will drive Apple fans totally nuts.

Bryan, I have no idea why you would pick the developer tools scab though. Right, developers now have choice when tools vendors deliver, brought to them not by Apple but by the EU. Steve’s original War on Flash tantrum threw many of tools vendors, who were investing tens of thousands to millions to hundreds of millions in tools directed at the platform for a real loop. And Steve, the one true and knowledgeable person about software engineering, has told us that these tools will create sub-standard software, but has had no further glorious, *magical* prnouncements on the subject. What is the truth here?

And that’s what “open” really means. Google would never pull that crap. They know better. [EDIT:] By “that crap”, I mean asserting that their “closed” stuff is anything but an advantage they are trying to keep for themselves by not sharing. Steve Jobs has lied about the App Store and tools policies. They had nothing to do with preserving user experience and everything to do with cock-blocking companies like Adobe that know how to make APIs and tools that developers can be most productive with.


Brian, did Apple not first say to app developers that they should use wide open and universal web development tools to write software for the iPhone (now iOS)? That option has been available to developers from the start, and still is. Developers went nuts demanding a native development environment, so Apple created the ‘closed’ app store, and included it’s own form of quality control, for better or worse.

Now, you basically state that the Macs and iOS devices are closed because the software and hardware are exclusively tied together. However, if you look at the multitude of other devices than contain both some form of hardware and some form of software, the two being joined at the hip is almost always the case, and nobody seems to care. Examples: Virtually all home electronics, digital music players, automobiles, etc. It could be strongly argued that, in many of these cases (especially Apple’s), the unison of hardware and software is critical to the producing company’s continued success.

So, for the record, do you see Mac OS X being tied to the Mac, and/or iOS being tied to Apple-developed devices, as a positive or a negative?


@ Bosco’s continuing tantrum about Flash & “Jobs’ lies”

Bosco, you have the right to your opinion, which MacObserver politely indulges in these forums, but your comments don’t help your credibility. If any Apple competitor tells a whopper, as Schmidt has done, you again trot out your hatred of Jobs and Apple to try to distract those who enjoy Apple products. Many of us would rather judge the quality of products and the user experience offered by them, than quibble about which platform is more open, and what “open” means.

BTW, to me, none of the devices offering a quality user experience are “open,” and neither are their apps.


And while we’re at it, shouldn’t we now throw HP and WebOS into this mix? I mean, come on. HP makes the tablet and now makes the OS and yet they also say they’re NOT copying Apple’s model.

That’s about as credible as Ted Danson saying he never appeared in black face!


“Many of us would rather judge the quality of products and the user experience offered by them, than quibble about which platform is more open, and what ?open? means.”

Maybe you should suggest that the editors not post articles on the “open” debate then? If Macobserver puts it up there with a sarcastic slant then people are free to post sarcastic responses.


The problem is that ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ aren’t clearly defined. Even Open Source software is, for the average user, not actually open. Sure I could go in and tweak the code to fit what I want but in reality I can’t. Theoretically Dell machines are more ‘Open’ in that they are regular WinTel systems. However they use so many custom made parts that in reality they are as ‘Closed’ as a Mac. Indeed I’ve sometimes found it easier to find an aftermarket power supply or other component for my Mac then some of the Dell or Compaq systems I’ve worked on. Sure Apple is ‘Closed’ but if you know what tools to use you can build a Hacintosh fairly easily.

‘Open’, ‘Closed’ have become fairly vague terms IMO.

Lee Dronick

This is not a fair comparison!

First of all Steve’s head was obviously PhotoShoped onto that scale, not as bad this though. The duck may have actually been sitting in the bowl.

Secondly even taking perspective into consideration the the chains suspending the left and right bowls are of different lengths.


Who cares if Apple is “open” or “closed?”  If you like its products, buy them.  If you like its platforms and rules, develop for them.  If you don’t, don’t.

Apple is a for-profit, publicly-traded company, like Google.  Apple’s only purpose is to make as much money as possible.  If Apple can do that best by being “closed,” then that’s how Apple will operate.


Who cares if Apple is ?open? or ?closed??

Closed and Open are relative words. The front door is open to family, friends and neighbours in varying degrees, while it is closed to others. But with will and a blunt object (or a bad argument), any door can be forced opened.

Microsoft and Apple have always had closed systems to the degree that they want to make money from their investments - the degree of openness and closeness, then, becomes a false argument.

Why Envyboys have been, still are and for ever will be enraged with Apple is that they are “closed” off from its profits skein; aka, profits from making, selling, fixing or teaching Apple systems. The success of Apple and the willingness of an increasing number of consumers to prefer Apple products fuels Envyboy outrage. So up comes the distraction card.

Of course resentment sets in, so reason goes out the windows. Money is relative to their argument. Lost money is never really lost. It still flutter about in the ethers even after death, which is why the passing of a parent can rupture the sensibilities of a family. In business, playing a false argument is the ultimate death rattle of Envyboys suffering from entitlement syndrome. “Closed” becomes the excuse to distract common sense.

In this case, anger and resentment from lost expectation of a God-given right to make profit from Apple is the Envyboy’s modus operandi. Distracting arguments have been sounded for eternity. Distant relatives Cain and Able come to mind when envy drives self-serving discussion. This emperor is strutting naked.


Google is no more or less open than Apple or any other proprietary company.  Google and Apple both open-source technology only when and where they conclude that doing so will enhance net revenue or result in some net benefit their respective companies. 

However, if we measure openness, as which company has open-sourced the most technology and/or contributed the most to open-source projects, then Apple is the clear winner.  Apple has voluntarily open-sourced WebKit, which is the basis of some of the most sophisticated and successful modern browsers, including the default browser on Android phones; it has voluntarily open-sourced the tech for FaceTime; it has voluntarily open-sourced even the Unix core of OS X, and the list continues.  See, where Apple lists the open-source tech that it uses in its products and/or services.  Apple has made enhancements to many of the listed projects and contributed those enhancements back to the particular open-source project.

In contrast, all the Google has open-sourced is Android and will probably open-source Chrome, both of which are based at least in part on the WebKit which is open-sourced Apple tech.  And even with Android, Google has only open-sourced the parts of it based on Linux, which was probably obliged to do by the GPL, while locking the rest of Android that is necessary to build a complete smartphone under copyright and license.

So, in terms of open-sourcing technology and contributing to open-source projects, Google doesn’t comes close to Apple’s accomplishments.

However, while both Apple and Google only open-source tech that won’t have a net negative impact on revenues, Apple has followed this principal more successfully than Google.  As far as I know, Apple’s open-sourcing of tech has only enhanced Apple’s revenues and/or reputation.  Google’s open-sourcing of Android, however, has been an utter loss for Google in China and a potential revenue disaster for Google in other major markets.  Google had hoped that licensing and contract restrictions would guarantee that its ad-revenue generating service would be on every Android phone.  See “Is Android Evil,” But the Chinese OEMs, telcos, and government turned Google’s strategy on its head and have branched Android and dispensed with Google’s service on Android phones in China.  Verizon is doing the same thing here in the U.S., where the Samsung Fascinate, which runs Android, uses Bing as its default search engine.  European telcos are also considering whether to branch Android, as the Chinese have done, and then either install their own services and run their own app stores or make Google pay to install its services on their Euro Android phones.

So Google’s attempt to be closed with Android, where it benefits Google to be closed, but open only where that harms competitors or makes consumers the thralls of the telcos has led to destruction of Google’s Android revenues in China and may also do so in the U.S. and European markets.


Excellent post, Nemo. “Where it benefits Google”  & “Apple”, says it all and strengthens your case.  Info is the amo that stands up to the BS shovelled out by the closed minded and you meet their challenge. Now I have some reading to do.

The White Rider

I sincerely don’t care if any company is “Open” or “Closed” (whatever that means) as long as their product/service works. Really, 99% of the normal people do not make purchase decision based on that criteria. Actually very few, if any, product/service is created as “Open”.

It seems the Anti-Apple lobby couldn’t find any valid, solid logic against the successful Apple products. So, they are basically whining when they say that Apple is Closed and they are Open.

Once they stop whining and concentrate on the products/services, they may create some competitive products. If they try to market a product as Open, that product will fail.


Sir Harry had it right! This entire discussion, starting with Schmidt is crazy talk.

As to Jobs on the scale on the other hand? The balance is fowled!

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