There was a time when Google and Apple were sitting on the forbidden tree… or something like that. Google CEO Eric Schmidt appeared on stage at Apple events and sat behind the scene on Apple’s board. Together they drove Microsoft out of our lives. Then Google decided to enter the mobile OS market out of fear of losing access to mobile phone users. And what better way to challenge Apple’s iPhone and its alliance with AT&T than to offer up the Google mobile OS Android for free to Verizon (and other telcos including AT&T)? This Google defined as “open”. Predictably Android provoked the ire of Steve Jobs who took to the company town hall to decry the terrible evil that had been done. The relationship turned sour and today the two giants are slinging lawyers at each other through intermediaries and proxies (heck, Google went out and bought an entire company, Motorola — a small step for Google but a giant leap for the science of lawyering up — while Apple coupled up with friends like Microsoft to buy patents from the defunct Nortel and others).
Building the Google-telco-user relationship around the free Android OS has led to a high level of fragmentation, lack of access to new features/updates for users (less than 2% of Android devices run the latest version of Android) and strangest of all: Microsoft makes more money than Google on Android (thanks to patents) and Google makes more money on iOS than it does on Android (thanks to Apple’s use of Google services).
There was another way this could have played out. As John Gruber writes today, “Google made a mistake by deciding to oppose rather than ally with Apple on mobile”. This is all the more the case given their complementary strengths and weaknesses. Google’s good at big data and infrastructure and poor at user experience. Apple’s infrastructure capabilities are only now being tested (iCloud) but they continue to write the book on user experience. Google it appears is unwilling to yield the user to others, lest it be cut out of the loop at a later date. It is not an illegitimate concern from a business perspective. From a user perspective, however, the rivalry is a net loss. Oh well.