Eric Schmidt on Apple, Google, and statecraft

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Eric Schmidt sat down with the Wall Street Journal’s Jessica Lessin recently for an interview and the WSJ posted a portion of the interview for non-subscribers. In the interview Schmidt talks about tech, patents, and of course Apple.

I don’t often include the headlines of other posts, but I thought the WSJ headline was—interesting:

Google’s Explainer-in-Chief Can’t Explain Apple

Heck I don’t think even Apple can fully explain Apple! While folks are quoting Schmidt’s Apple-related comments, I think the comment about competition and the “Gang of Four” is worth noting here:

WSJ: Do you still see Google, Apple, Amazon Inc. and Facebook Inc. as the “Gang of Four” companies that matter the most in consumer technology?

Mr. Schmidt: I do. We had never in our industry seen four network platforms of that scale. We had seen IBM, and we had seen Microsoft. But now we have four, and the resultant competition is a huge change in the industry.

It’s the mix that I find most interesting. I think only Google and Apple are the most closely related to each other, but you have three hardware makers, one retailer, one social network, one search giant, two OS makers…I could go on, but the point is that it’s the mix that’s interesting. It isn’t like the days of IBM or Microsoft where while they dominated the industry it was more focused. Today the complexity of how each of the companies compete and cooperate with each other is fascinating.

On to Apple…

WSJ: How has Google’s relationship with Apple changed in the past year?

Mr. Schmidt: It’s always been on and off. Obviously, we would have preferred them to use our maps. They threw YouTube off the home screen [of iPhones and iPads]. I’m not quite sure why they did that.

The press would like to write the sort of teenage model of competition, which is, ‘I have a gun, you have a gun, who shoots first?’

The adult way to run a business is to run it more like a country. They have disputes, yet they’ve actually been able to have huge trade with each other. They’re not sending bombs at each other.

I think both Tim [Cook, Apple’s CEO] and Larry [Page, Google’s CEO], the sort of successors to Steve [Jobs] and me if you will, have an understanding of this state model. When they and their teams meet, they have just a long list of things to talk about.

The crux, and the crucial difference now than a year and a bit ago, is that Apple and Google do have to act like countries, superpowers really, for all of us to benefit. Same with the other two parts of the Gang of Four. The reality is that with maybe the exception of Amazon, they all need each other to flourish. Facebook needs people on their site for advertising. Apple and Google need to stay in step with what Facebook is doing so their OS can interact with it. Amazon wants to sell more stuff, and Kindles. Really for any of the companies to decide to crush another—like Steve Jobs’ scorched earth plan for Android—only damages the ecosystem as a whole. Like it or not, Apple needs Google and its services as much as Google needs all of us Apple users.

Perhaps with many of the fiery personalities out of the picture, Apple and Google can get down to the business of technological statecraft and help us and themselves at the same time.

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