Of Google’s Android mobile operating system, the only serious competitor to Apple’s iOS, Steve Jobs said “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product… I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.” (Isaacson, 2011) Indeed, much could be said of the relationship between Google and Apple, but few would say that it has been anything but passionate. The recent announcement at the 2012 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that Apple will be using its own proprietary software for maps in its new iOS 6, replacing Google’s mapping software, may be the nail in the coffin for the once beneficial cooperation shared by these tech giants. (Vascellaro, 2012) In this post, I will trace this relationship back to its earliest beginnings, when Apple depended on Google to provide integrated search in the first iPhone. Then, I will discuss how this relationship gradually eroded as Google and Apple went to war on patents and copyright. Finally, I will explain how this relationship stands today, and what the future holds for these two companies. Ultimately, we will see that this story is a prime example of the good that can come from mutual cooperation, and the effects that the erosion of this cooperation can have.
It was Macworld 2007, the ninth annual Macintosh trade show, where Steve Jobs chose to unveil a phone he described as five years ahead of its time: the iPhone. (Kast, 2011) While the phone’s technological sophistication was due in large part to Apple’s engineers and designers, there is no doubt that the phone was successful in part because of its utilization of Google’s information technology. The iPhone came standard with Google internet search, Google Maps, and YouTube (a Google product) installed on each phone. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt made the importance of this relationship very clear when he joined Jobs on the stage to introduce the iPhone, and said, “From a Google perspective, we’ve pushed very hard to partner with Apple.” (Block, 2007) The partnership had been very close; Schmidt had been sitting on Apple’s board of directors since August 2006. (Dowling, Dr. Eric Schmidt Resigns from Apple’s Board of Directors, 2009) In many ways, Google was the first company to develop a second-party app for the iPhone; all of the other applications on the phone were developed internally by Apple. The iPhone went on to be a rousing success, selling 5.4 million units in its first year and 183 million units to date. (Dowling, 2012) However, Google’s future plans would raise questions about the nature of the relationship thus far.
The beginning of the end actually came in August of 2005, when Google quietly acquired a small company known as Android Inc. (Elgin, 2005) This company’s work had been largely under wraps, and stayed as such until Google and others formed the Open Handset Alliance and concurrently announced Android as a mobile software platform in November of 2007, just ten months after Apple had first unveiled the iPhone. (Fors, 2007) Strangely, Schmidt stayed on Apple’s board of directors for some time, with his resignation only coming in August of 2009. (Avelar, 2009) Working with Google for over a year, Jobs saw the development of Android as a highly personal attack, and Apple moved quickly to protect what they viewed as an unfair use of their intellectual property. The weapon Apple employed was patent litigation, and the targets were HTC and Samsung – companies that make the hardware that runs Android – as well as Motorola Mobility, purchased by Google in August of 2011 for $12.5 billion. (Efrati & Ante, 2011) These lawsuits were variously seen as frivolous, with Apple claiming a patent on the touch screen technology ubiquitous in smartphones today, and legitimate, with Samsung the target of a lawsuit based on the notion that they have systematically copied Apple’s designs. (Harris, 2012; Kane & Sherr, 2011) Samsung has proven an especially high-profile target, and as of this writing Apple is battling that company in 30 distinct lawsuits across the globe. (Decker, 2012) Apple has had some success, effectively banning some HTC phones from distribution in the United States in late 2011, but the war with Google’s Motorola Mobility continues to this day. (Yarow, 2011; McDougall, 2012) Meanwhile, Google has been taking the fight to Apple by releasing a full-fledged operating system, which might present a slight problem for Microsoft’s OS dominance but is a direct assault on the iPad. (Bieri, 2009) Just when it seemed like the last vestiges of a partnership were long gone, Apple has made one final move: ending support for Google Maps in their iOS platform.
The shift to Apple’s own proprietary map software might be explained by providing users with a more integrated application experience, but the truth is that this move has negative consequences; application developers who have long worked with Google Maps’ API must now shift to Apple’s Map Kit API when creating applications for the new iOS 6. (Claburn, 2012) Despite this latest setback, there is hope for a future of collaboration, as Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook has expressed a desire to discontinue the legislative war of his predecessor. (Ibid.) What won’t change are the business models of these companies: Google deals in an open Web where search and advertising is provided through their own services; whereas Apple seems to desire a segmentation of the internet’s information structure, with individual applications linking users directly with content. Given Apple’s impressive hardware and Google’s information architecture, a return to cooperation can provide users with more cutting-edge experiences such as the original Google Maps on the iPhone; it may seem commonplace now, but directly accessing a dynamic map on your smartphone was truly unique five years ago. However, significant headway needs to be made for such cooperation to ever again be possible.
Update: Since this paper was written, HTC has defeated Apple’s swipe-to-unlock lawsuit; the full story, along with a good discussion of the logic behind the ruling and the various elements of the lawsuit, is here.
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(Header image credit: AP)
Google and Apple: A History of Cooperation and Rivalry by Steve Richey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Note: This paper was originally submitted for a class on Organizational Behavior.