Generals’ War

I missed a few subtle points in last week’s piece on the escalating contention between Apple and Google.

The first is that what I’m talking about is outright hostility, not just mere competition. We’re well past the point where there’s any question whether Google and Apple are rivals, specifically in regard to Android-vs.-iPhone, and soon Chrome OS-vs.-iPad. Of course they’re competitors. That’s good, and a normal aspect of capitalism. I’m saying there’s something else going on, something more vicious. Outright hostility. The difference between rival and enemy.

The other thing I neglected to mention, and I think it’s important, is that this is all taking place at the executive and upper-management levels. The engineers — at both companies — are neither prepared nor relishing this. I have sources at both companies (more at Apple than Google, unsurprisingly, but more at Google than just about any company other than Apple), almost all of whom are engineers and none are “executives”, and the word that keeps popping up regarding this situation is “weird”. That there’s a meeting at Apple where Google comes up, or vice versa, and the managers are talking about waging war — vicious, angry talk.

Outright hostility just doesn’t feel right to the engineers at either company. It is weird. There are decided and very obvious cultural differences between the two companies. Apple engineers tend to think Google makes ugly (but effective, smart) software, and they’re suspicious of Google’s “we want all of your data” strategy. Google engineers see that Apple doesn’t get the web — or at least the web as a software platform — and consider that quaint, and they’re flat-out offended by Apple’s autocratic control of the App Store. But, on the whole, the engineers at each company like each other. There are a lot of Apple engineers who use Google services and a lot of Google engineers who use Apple computers.

Neither company has cultivated an internal culture like, say, that of the Microsoft of old — an “us against the world” mindset, where you know when you sign up for the gig that the goal isn’t merely to succeed, but to destroy the competition.

This is a generals’ war. The rank-and-file at Apple and Google aren’t looking for battle, or even expecting it.

On the other hand, Google is not as monolithic a company as Apple. Much attention has been drawn to Steve Jobs’s comments regarding Google at an internal Apple “town hall” meeting a few days after the iPad introduction in January. In particular, the second-hand paraphrasing reported by John C. Abell at Wired. As Abell reported it, and as most other outlets have picked it up:

On Google: We did not enter the search business, Jobs said. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them, he says.

After I linked to Abell’s report at Wired, a source who was at the town hall meeting told me:

“He actually said ‘teams at Google want to kill us.’ He never said it in a way that made it sound like the whole company did. Mostly just the Android team.”

After my piece last week, another source from Apple emailed me to reiterate that Jobs, at the Town Hall, was emphatic about there only being “some teams” at Google that want to kill the iPhone, not Google as a whole. That, yes, Jobs sounded furious about it, but that it was clear that his anger wasn’t directed at Google as a whole but rather Android in particular.

That alone could make for something ugly, though.