Why Google and Apple Are Now Enemies

Just like Athens and Sparta, Google and Apple are destined to collide. It’s a Greek tragedy unfolding before our very eyes.


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Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote Monday made it clear to the world that Apple is escalating its conflict with former ally Google.

Pundits are speculating about how this separation, conflict and polarization of the tech world can be avoided.

It can’t be.

Conflict and enmity between Google and Apple is inevitable.

The reason is that Google and Apple are the Athens and Sparta of the tech industry. It’s in the DNA of both companies to rule the tech world. They will battle each other for supremacy and, in the process, greatly diminish each other’s power and reach. United, they could accomplish anything. But they will not be united. They will become increasingly divided.

It’s a Greek tragedy unfolding before our very eyes.

Athens and Sparta

Broadly speaking, classical Athens and Sparta represented very different cultural extremes. Athens was a hotbed of political, artistic and intellectual experimentation and change. It was an “open” city, and foreign visitors were welcome to come and go, and participate in the cultural life of the city. The Athenians made up the rules as they went along and changed them frequently.

Sparta was the most stable society of the ancient world, an oligarchy with a constitution that remained in place for centuries. Sparta was “closed” to outside ideas, outside people and outside influences. The Spartans believed they had perfected the city state, producing citizens of superior virtue through a rigorous state-sponsored educational system. To live in Sparta was to do things the Spartan way. And that way was probably the vision of a single man.

Does all this sound familiar?

When Greece was confronted with a massive invasion by the Persian Empire, Athens and Sparta united to defeat the invaders.

After the war, the two city states (especially Athens) continued to expand their spheres of influence in Greece and much of the Mediterranean, leading to conflict between the two powers and ultimately the disastrous Peloponnesian War.

The war destroyed Athens, weakened Sparta and left Greece in ruins. It ended the “Golden Age” of both Athens and Sparta.

Google and Apple

Like Athens and Sparta, Google and Apple represent totally different cultures -- Google is radically open and experimental. Apple is closed and controlling, but disciplined, focused and obsessed by its own sense of superiority.

Like Athens, Google is the everything company. They started with Search engines, but now are in the businesses of email, office suites, social networking, operating systems, blogging platforms, advertising, mapping, downloadable content, mobile phone handsets and tablets and more. They’re working on a self-driving car and cyborg glasses.

Like Sparta, Apple focuses on just a few key objectives. While Google’s Android platform runs on hundreds of devices, Apple’s runs on one, for example.

Ultimately, Apple wants to dominate just one thing: The premium, high-quality “sweet spot” experience for content creation and content consumption.

And like Sparta, Apple expects to control what it controls totally, and for others to stay out of Apple’s business. Rivals who challenge Apple for dominance on its own territory are to be crushed.

Like Athens, Google can’t help constantly expanding its scope until it inevitably overlaps into Apple’s spheres of influence.

Conflict is inevitable.

How Did It Come to This?

Google and Apple used to be allies. When Google went looking for a CEO three years before their IPO, they decided that only Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs was good enough to lead the company. Google’s founders believed Jobs to be the best CEO in the world. Turns out he was happy staying at Apple, so Google hired Eric Schmidt instead.

At the time (2001), Google’s search engine business and Apple’s computers and iPod businesses seemed complimentary. The companies admired and supported each other and were natural allies. In 2006, Apple invited Schmidt to join their board of directors and he accepted.

When Apple announced its entry into the mobile handset market in January of 2007, Google was not considered a rival, but a partner. The first iPhone came with Google’s Maps app and YouTube.

Sure, Google had purchased Android in 2005. But even as late as December of 2007, after the iPhone had been shipping for months, Android phones looked more like BlackBerrys than iPhones, with physical keyboards and navigation via buttons rather than multi-touch screens. Android was aimed at mobile phone markets that Apple wasn’t targeting.

Apple wanted to reinvent how phones looked, felt and functioned, and expected its partners to stay out of the way.

But Google eventually transformed Android to look and feel a lot more like the iPhone operating system. It was all screen and no keypad, with swiping and pinching gestures and an app store model for apps.

Jobs was furious about Google’s decision to make Android look and feel more like iPhone. He later told biographer Walter Isaacson that he was "willing to go thermonuclear war” on Google for making an iPhone-like Android.

Google has also entered other traditional Apple businesses, including every imaginable form of downloadable content.

In the Fall of 2009, it was “mutually decided” that Schmidt should leave the Apple board due to “potential conflicts of interest.” (Translation: Apple kicked him off the board because Google is now the enemy.)

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Tags: Facebook, Google, Android, iPhone, Apple

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