Stop the Noiz

Is Google Apple's Partner or Competitor?

Frank Fox - 2009.08.26 - Tip Jar

Why is Google a threat to Microsoft and Apple?

Microsoft sells software. Apple sells hardware. Google sells internet advertising. Each of these businesses is very different and wouldn't normally affect the others.

Apple creates a better operating system to sell attractive hardware. Microsoft and the PC world flip this model and use cheap commodity hardware to sell software that Microsoft develops. They are yin and yang to each other's business model.

Google at Risk?

Where does Google fit in? Google make its fortune selling advertising on the Internet. Since computers are required for accessing the Internet, Google's business is a byproduct of Microsoft and Apple. It is a profitable service (gross profit $13 billion and $19 billion in cash), and it has driven Microsoft to jealousy.

When your business is the byproduct of someone else's work, you look for ways to diversify and protect you investment. When you add to this the threats from the company for whom 95% of your users depend on to access your service, your need to protect your investment become a matter of life and death.

Let's all cheer the genius of Steve Ballmer threatening Google with extinction! What more motivation does Google need to come out with its own alternative to Microsoft ? It is pretty clear to see why Sergey and Larry have come up with Google apps to compete head-to-head with Microsoft on the Internet. By opening another front in the battle, they spread out Microsoft attacks and provide cover for their business to thrive.

Google vs. Apple?

Like any war, there is collateral damage - innocent people get hurt. Apple, which has shown little interest in Google's business, is being drawn into the battle. I'm not trying to say that Apple is innocent of all crimes, just that they have nothing to do with the spat between Microsoft and Google. Regardless, they are being drawn into a battle with a once close ally.

If Microsoft/PC and Apple were car makers, then Google would be the company selling advertising on the car radio. Normally Google doesn't need to concern itself about cars or radios. It just wants every car to have a radio so everyone can listen to its advertisements.

I would say that most of the threats from Microsoft are nothing but hot air. The past is a different story. Google has seen what happened to Netscape, IBM, Sun Microsystems, and other of Microsoft's competitors and partners. Microsoft controls 95% of the market, and it likes to decide what is permitted. It can shut out a competitor and pay out the government penalties while still making money.

Google needs shelter from Microsoft, if for no other reason then to avoid the fate of Netscape.

Allied Against Microsoft

Apple is an ally for a now, but Apple's market share is too small to defend Google from Microsoft. Google is busy creating other alternatives. It builds its own tools and get support from the open source software movement. The OSS people have alternatives to every software product that Microsoft or Apple make. Much of the free software is rough, but Google has millions to spend and smart people on call to create a passing alternative.

This situation prompted Google to spend millions to help the development of Firefox as a competitor to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Then it polished dozens of apps for cloud services, from Gmail to Google Docs, as a way to weaken Microsoft Office. Next, it built Chrome to tie all these services together. This creates a shell around the Windows environment to reduce dependence on the Windows layer below.

Then, for good measure, Google released Android to compete with Windows Mobile and the iPhone.

All of this it can give away for free, because Google uses open source software to reduce development costs and these services are designed to be leverage against Microsoft. Consumers see this as a big win, because they are getting something for free.

Mostly this has been about the impact on Microsoft products. Google is still expecting you to buy your own computer. Cheap PCs and netbooks with Linux are good enough for logging on to the Internet. Macs are nice, but definitely not required for Google's business to thrive.

Google's Business Model

Google is also working hard to define your user experience on the computer so all the roads for Internet services lead to Google. The more services it provides, the more users it will attract. The more users it attracts, the more advertising it sells. Since more people are using the Internet for news and entertainment, all the billions of advertising dollars are moving to the Internet. Google wants to be everywhere to collect those billions.

Apple is not about cheap computers or letting someone else control the user experience. Apple is about ease of use, building products that sell themselves, and staying ahead of the competition with vertically integrated products. Apple tries to supply the whole solution. Despite this, Apple benefits from having software developers choose its platform.

Google is viewed as just another software developer, but unlike most developers, Google doesn't rely on the sale of its software for profit. Google gives it away to promote traffic to its services, enhance its reputation, and create a barrier against Microsoft. If Google brings out products that compete with Apple along the way, too bad.

Nothing personal, Apple, but Google may have to destroy your business model in order to guarantee access on the computer desktop or smartphone browser. This message kind of sucks, especially when Apple has been supportive of Google.

Apple includes the Google search box in the Safari toolbar. It gave access to many Google apps on the iPhone in preference to other companies. (It was Google Maps that came with the original iPhone, not Mapquest.) Apple even had a Google executive on its board of directors. But at the end of the day, business is business, and Google has to look out for its own shareholders.

Insider Advantage?

The friendly relationship between Apple and Google might lead to an FTC inquiry with Google on how it used its relationship with Apple to gain insider knowledge of Apple's strategies - and how it turned around to use this information against both Microsoft and Apple.

From the beginning, the relationship has been one-sided.

What has Google done to help Apple sell Macs, iPods, or iPhones? On the other hand, Apple has directed traffic to Google with Safari and the iPhone.

Did the congenial relationship with Google cost Apple business opportunities? Should Apple have tried to get a bidding war for the search box in Safari with Yahoo or Microsoft against Google?

Everyone is so focused on Apple being the naughty company that they forget that Google gained from the relationship.

Is Google a Reliable Partner?

This leaves Apple in an uncomfortable position. Is Google still a reliable business partner? Does Apple need to establish independence from Google apps? Has giving Google preferential treatment on the iPhone backfired? Should Apple work harder to crush the Android platform before it becomes too competitive?

Maybe Google needs to have a lawsuit or two to get it to back off from Apple's business. Steve Jobs is a "nice person", and he may have put away his killer instincts with Google. Does he need to be reminded of the threat Google has become?

Google Voice

For all those people whining about the unfair rejection of Google Voice on the iPhone, I say shut up. Apple doesn't owe Google anything, let alone favored status on the iPhone. If Google can't figure a way to meet Apple's demands on what is allowed, too bad. (Seriously, why can smaller developers navigate the approval process while Google can't?) Other developers have their apps rejected the same way and have to work harder to make Apple happy.

The same goes for Google. It should ask Apple what it doesn't like, fix it, and get on with business. Apple has its own business to run, and that doesn't include baby-sitting Google through the app approval process.

If Google Voice held the promise of making Apple a ton of money, show me the money, and maybe I'll change my mind. When there is money to be made, a little baby-sitting can be justified. But if this is just about currying favor with Google, forget about it. Apple needs to end the cozy one-sided relationship before the relationship gets any worse. LEM


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