As we wait for Apple's next moves, among the furor over Android overtaking Apple in terms of smartphone OS marketshare in the US, it seemed a good moment to reflect that Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, only finally resigned his seat on Apple's board of directors this week one year ago.
We saw it coming at the time. First of all Apple rejected Google Voice from the App Store.
Then came the bombshell, a short statement dated August 3 2009, in which Schmidt finally quit his seat on Apple's board. And finally admitted just how big a competitor to Apple Google had become.
[This story is from the new Apple Holic blog at Computerworld. Subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat. Or link up via Twitter on the all-new feed.]
This is just one year ago. This means that in under thirteen months Google has managed to introduce a mobile phone OS that is already exceeding Apple in terms of US sales...
That's a remarkable accomplishment when you consider how many years it took for Apple to deliver its iPhone.
Way back in 2005 I heard a -- potentially untrue -- story that Apple at one stage had some form of Apple mobile ready to launch, even down to the marketing pages for the company website. That product was allegedly ditched at the eleventh hour. I've never been able to confirm this claim, so it must be taken with a massive pinch of salt -- I may have been being misled.
More concretely, I did also once hear Apple's chief designer, Jony Ive, berate the user interface and design of mobile phones, pointing out that at that time (2004) people "hated" their cell phones.
Before launch of the original iPhone, Apple had already put an inordinate amount of work into developing a smartphone that just works. (When the antenna isn't bridged, admittedly).
Schmidt joined Apple's board in August 2006, just five months before Apple introduced the iPhone. Now we see Android cited as Apple's main competing smartphone.
I'm noting the juxtaposition, which means nothing. We're all aware that Schmidt would recluse himself from meetings in which Apple execs discussed Apple's mobile plans, at least, he did at some point once Google's mobile ambitions became realised. Complete probity was maintained.
Now, just 12 months later it is clearly a war between Google and Apple for the future of tech.
Here's what Apple CEO Steve Jobs had to say on Schmidt's departure:
"Eric has been an excellent Board member for Apple, investing his valuable time, talent, passion and wisdom to help make Apple successful."
"Unfortunately, as Google enters more of Apple's core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS, Eric's effectiveness as an Apple Board member will be significantly diminished, since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest. Therefore, we have mutually decided that now is the right time for Eric to resign his position on Apple's Board."
Just 12 months since Schmidt quit the board, 200,000 Android devices are selling daily. Not bad for 12 months open competition between Google and Apple.
Sure -- we also know Nokia is selling 300,000 Symbian-powered smartphones daily, but no one really cares. There's no buzz among developers for that platform.
ABI Research expects mobile application downloads from iOS and Android to account for 78% of all application downloads in 2010, with iOS (the iPhone's operating system) taking the lion's share of 52% of all applications.
"Downloads from other platforms, such as Blackberry's App Store and Nokia's Ovi Store remain sluggish, hampered by a lack of variety and fragmentation among both manufacturers' many devices," said wireless research analyst Bhavya Khanna.
How will the battle go?
There is a big difference between the two firms.
Announcing the closure of Google Wave, Schmidt told the Techonomy conference this week, "We celebrate our failures."
As noted by Search Engine Land, Google's roll call of failure also includes: Google SearchWiki; Google Audio Ads; Google Video; Dodgeball; Jaiku; Google Catalog; Google Notebook; Google Print Ads; Google Page Creator; and Google Answers.
(I expect to see Apple introduce a more evolved social networking service on the back of its MobileMe service soon. So it surprised me today when I learned Google intends introducing its own Facebook competitor, called GoogleMe, according to Digg founder, Kevin Rose.)
My point could be that while I praise Google's famed culture in which workers are encouraged to spend as much as a fifth of their worktime developing their own products and following their own interests, its ability to finesse new products for mainstream launch seems limited. This is why it has had to learn how to 'celebrate failure'.
Compare this with Apple. Apple's failures take place in the red hot glare of global publicity. And it does fail sometimes.
But while for Google innovation is a scatter gun exercise of firing at the wall and seeing what sticks, at Apple innovation is handled differently.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs has previously said he's just as proud of the products the company didn't ship.
Apple puts more time into what it tries to achieve. To introduce the iPhone reflected work over several years.
As Ive explained during a talk at the UK Design Museum, "We all work really, really hard and pursue solutions that are really difficult, so we can make good products."
As an example of his painstaking approach, Ive noted his team's work on developing a mechanism which enabled an Apple laptop's display to remain in position when opened.
"We worked really, really hard to develop a mechanism that basically spring-loads the clutch so that at a point when you are opening it you counter-balance the display, " he said. "And it's one of the points we spent so much time working out, so that the product was so much nicer than anything else."
Once the media realise that consumers no longer care about antenna-gate now they have a case to put their iPhone 4 inside, Apple's focus on care and on building deeply engaging user experiences will give it a big advantage in its battle with Android.
In two years time, it will be interesting to see if Android remains as competitive when compared with Apple's iOS devices, a full three years since that board level tie between the two firms got disconnected.
Will Google be celebrating failure, or will Apple celebrate success?
PS: If you are an Apple hater who maybe ended up here after reading my colleague, Mitch Wagner's amusing op-ed on why people hate Apple, then you are simply going to love this Craig's List ad, in which someone moving to NYC is seeking a room share, but only with someone who does not use an iPhone. Let hilarity ensue.