TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld insists Google wrote the iPhone
October 29th, 2009
Daniel Eran Dilger
Wrting for TechCrunch, Erick Schonfeld channeled Glenn Beck to blend righteous outrage, over-the-top moralism, and boldly presented misinformation to insist that Google wrote Apple’s iPhone apps and that it “should” now force Apple to beg to use Google’s open APIs. He’s wrong, here’s why.
Schonfeld isn’t exactly going rogue here; TechCrunch has clearly staked out a new fanatical opposition to anything Apple-related and an unwavering fundamentalism that outstretches welcoming arms of credulity for anything Google-related.
For TechCrunch bloggers, the iPhone isn’t merely a very popular product that purposely fails to address every conceivable desire a user might express. No, it’s an abomination that must be vilified daily by fervent appeals to instead adopt Google’s fledgeling, security-free, business model impaired, fractionalized platform of non-Apple hope.
Good vs Evil: a play for simple people
In the minds of TechCrunch preachers, Apple and Google aren’t close partners who work together with symbiotic efficiency in the areas of web search, YouTube video publishing, email and contact services, WebKit, HTML5, and a variety of other open source projects. No, Apple and Google are now cutthroat enemies, as evidenced by both having some minimal overlap in portions of their mobile platform offerings.
Never mind that Apple works productively with Microsoft, or IBM, or the RIAA, or AT&T, or any number of other companies that it has also had competitive and even fiercely antagonistic relationships with in the past or even the present. That kind of realistic relationship complexity is painted in shades of grey, and doesn’t translate into black hat/white hat moralism where everything is for us or against us.
In the simplistic, hyper-dramatic world of the wildly arrogant bloggers of TechCrunch, Apple is all evil and Google can actually do no wrong, let alone evil. So when Google showed off its slick new Google Maps Navigation app, and premiered it on Android 2.0 running on the new Verizon Droid built by Motorola, TechCrunch decided that “Google is putting Apple on notice that it is no longer reserving its best apps for the iPhone.”
This all happened before
Perhaps TechCrunch is so full of itself that it fails to remember that the last time Google wanted to show off a cool new feature, it also did so on for Android first, for reasons that are too obvious to require any explanation.
If you’ve forgotten, it was the Android compass on the T-Mobile G1, which Google integrated with Maps to allow the user to pan around in Street Views by simply holding the phone in different directions. That was a year ago. In the meantime, Apple launched its own phone with a compass, and subsequently, most people who actually use Google Maps with the compass orientation features are iPhone users.
That’s because the G1 failed to sell in any meaningful quantity; outside of Compass Mode, it had a lot of serious drawbacks. So now Google is associating its new Maps Navigation feature with Android 2.0, which may not even run on the G1 because that model doesn’t have enough RAM to load future updates.
Google doesn’t care about people who bought the first generation of Android phones because it didn’t sell the G1, and doesn’t make any money on upgrades. Like Microsoft, Google only cares about attracting attention to its latest version of Android because that’s what its selling to its real customers, who aren’t consumers but rather the phone makers (like Motorola) and mobile providers (like Verizon). Just like Windows Mobile always has.
Why Apple loves you (money)
It’s not like Apple has some special version of corporate altruism that out-righteousnesses Google, it’s just that Apple directly sells its hardware to individuals. Apple has to impress and delight consumers in order to get their money.
Apple’s relationship with its hardware suppliers and AT&T is just tough business. Apple flashed big bills at AT&T and forced the company to change from being the kind of outfit that charged $50 a month for worthless data services that nobody actually used into one where they now get more money from more subscribers thanks to the iPhone, but actually have to work for it now.
Verizon wants that same kind of money, but doesn’t want to have to work for it. Verizon also doesn’t want to give up its predatory ringtones and lame rental game applet business. In corporate circles, Apple knocks heads together and leaves with deals that are pro-consumer, not because the company loves us, but because it knows that if it gives us what we want, we’ll come back regularly. Perhaps that is love, just not the romanticized version.
New depths of delusion at TechCrunch
TechCrunch apparently hasn’t heard of any of this, apparently being too delusionally consumed by the fabulousness of its own obese shadow. How else could these writers happen upon the theory that Google’s free (i.e. “ad supported”) Maps Navigation venture leaves the iPhone at a disadvantage because, ostensibly, “paid navigation apps in the iTunes store can’t compete.”
Well actually they can compete, because there are occasions where (perish the thought) AT&T’s network isn’t available or reliable. In those cases, you’ll want your GPS maps contained within the App, just like a real GPS device. Google’s navigation maps, just like those in the iPhone’s Maps app, have to stream in as needed, so if you don’t have a viable network connections (like, say, on the iPod touch), you’re out of luck.
That said, I’m certainly looking forward for the option of being able to get turn by turn navigation that works as well as Google’s other Maps features, all of which trickle into the iPhone Maps app as quickly as Apple can implement them. Yes, that’s right, Google’s free new Map features are free because the company wants them widely implemented because it makes its money on ads, not selling client software.
Google and iPhone Apps
The iPhone should be able to implement Google’s Maps Navigation features even faster than it inhaled Android 1.0’s compass features, given that new hardware isn’t even required. Which reminds me: TechCrunch also rather outrageously claims that Google wrote all of the iPhone apps. It did not.
This idea was first floated by Michael “People Ready” Arrington himself in his Google Voice coverage, where he wrote, “Multiple sources at Google tell us that in informal discussions with Apple over the last few months Apple expressed dismay at the number of core iPhone apps that are powered by Google. Search, maps, YouTube, and other key popular apps are powered by Google. Other than the browser, Apple has little else to call its own other than the core phone, contacts and calendar features.”
Oh no! Apple has just realized that it uses services provided by Google! How could the company have not figured this out before? Imagine the kind of groveling Apple would have to do to pick up Yahoo or Microsoft Bing or some other vendor as its primary provider of search and maps. The company would probably have to accept millions in dowery just to wed another partner to what is now the hottest mobile client on the planet, even without including the iPod touch. Oh the humanity! Apple already has too many billions in the bank. This might cause its revenues too expand too mightily.
Arringtons’ grandly moralizing “ought” speech on Apple and Google Voice was then amplified by Schonfeld, who then wrote “Google supposedly didn’t need to creat [sic] its own phone, because it could simply create software for the iPhone. And, in fact, some of the best apps on the iPhone—Mail, Maps, YouTube, Search—were developed by Google.”
Well never mind that Search isn’t the name of an iPhone app; none of these apps were developed by Google at all. Schonfeld might as well claim that every web browser capable of visiting Google.com was, supposedly, “developed by Google.”
A person who was entirely clueless about the industry might be forgiven for thinking that Maps and YouTube were “Google Apps” in a general sense, because they serve as clients for what are obviously Google services. But to present the idea that Apple delegated development of its iPhone client apps to Google all the way to Mail is just too stupid for anyone to suggest, particularly a bunch of arrogant bloggers who act like they are are arbiters of righteousness in the realm of technology.
Stick with your knitting
When Apple first unveiled the iPhone, Google was dazzled by the cool apps Apple had built for presenting its Maps API data. Compare the versions of Google Maps that the company has released for other phone platforms (particularly before it began copying Apple’s Maps client after the release of the iPhone) and this is painfully obvious.
Google sets up services that anyone can use. Google does the heavy lifting on the server side: video serving, gmail message services, maps, relevant search results, document editing and serving, and so on. Goole isn’t exactly phenomenal at building client apps.
This part is an expression of my opinion, but Picassa on the Mac is pretty universally regarded as having a terrible user interface. I enjoy being able to use Gmail, but I think its web interface is quirky and counterintuitive. I have tried to use Google Docs and other services, and find them similarly clumsy. What they do is great; how they actually work isn’t. In a perfect world, Google would run my backend services and Apple would build the way the client looked. Which is why I like the iPhone.
Look at Android phones: they look like they were designed by whoever laid out the Amiga desktop. Oh sorry, workbench. The same people who designed decades of Linux desktops that the mainstream never adopted. Google has the functionality side down, but its client user interaction layer is usually just weak. That’s what makes the Google/Apple tag team so great.
Pay better attention to history, TechCrunchers
The point Schonfeld was trying to make is that Apple shouldn’t stand in Google’s way. This is all about the site’s official, myopic opinion that Apple should approve Google Voice, and that Apple’s decision not to is entirely ignorant and perhaps evil, rather than being a mixture of paranoia, obvious competitive concerns, and the product of what is still an opaque strategy.
Unfortunately, Schonfeld builds his logical house of cards upon a series of inane premises and a faulty recollection of the past. Citing Arringtons quote above, Schonfeld claims that the whole Google Voice rejection was because Apple wanted “to back away from letting Google take over the iPhone with all the best apps” and would accomplish this goal “by rejecting them.”
Got that? Apple fears that Google will take over the iPhone because it wrote all the apps (that it didn’t), and because Google is irreplaceable as a service provider (even though it isn’t), creating an issue that is a horrific problem for Apple (even though it isn’t), and one that Google will exploit to cause damage for Apple without really gaining anything itself (which, of course, it won’t.)
Schonfeld says Google’s preview of Maps Navigation on Android 2.0 is “a big middle finger” to the iPhone and a sign that “Google will stop giving Apple its best apps first” (despite that whole G1 compass harbinger). How can TechCrunch top this in sheer foolishness? Oh, you might be surprised.
“Apple is in a terrible position here because the future of mobile apps are Web apps, and Google excels at making those,” Schonfeld claims. Apparently he missed the memos on a) developers’ reaction to Apple’s web SDK, b) widespread apathy for the Palm Pre’s incredibly slow WebOS web applets, and c) TechCrunch’s own position that a web app version of Google Latitude for the iPhone is unacceptable.
Come on, express an opinion that doesn’t change in every story. Web apps will certainly serve a big purpose going forward, but Apple has already dominated the business of native mobile apps in a way that Android has yet to prove any competency in.
“Apple needs Google, it’s [sic] most dangerous competitor in the mobile Web market, to keep building apps for the iPhone,” Schonfeld then adds, before noting that “Google would be foolish not to since the iPhone still has the largest reach of any modern Web phone.” So can we agree that there’s no issue then?
“The sad thing is that Apple has been here before—with Microsoft,” Schonfeld insists, finally reaching his false history lesson. “In the late 1990s, Apple had to beg Microsoft to keep building Office for Macs. Now it may be in the same position with Google.”
Except that the reason Apple had to beg Microsoft to build Office for Macs was because the Mac platform had imploded between 1990 and 1997, being greatly overshadowed by Microsoft’s own Windows. There was apparently little commercial viability in building Mac apps at that point, and Microsoft had competitive reasons not to.
Also, Apple didn’t beg; Steve Jobs forced Bill Gates to deliver Office for Mac under threat of exposing the whole Canyon/QuickTime code theft and a variety of other patent violations. Gates responded by allowing Roz Ho to deliver multiple editions of Office for Mac that were all terrible, and Jobs pretended to be proud that Office ran on his Macs. It was all theater.
Further, the main reason the Mac platform was in decline was because Apple had allowed its closest third-party software developer to take its own Mac technologies and build its own alternative. Apple had no patent protections in place, had no restrictions and enforced no minimum standards on third party apps, and was completely out of the loop in earning any profits from software developers’ use of its platform. That left Apple entirely without any control over the destiny of its own platform.
Apple’s new platform strategy
Rather than Apple being in the same position again, it has taken steps to ensure that third parties support the platform they earn their money on with the iPhone. They are free to port their apps to WiMo or Android or Symbian, but Apple makes it difficult to take away its own key technologies.
It does this by leveraging patented platform features; insisting that App Store titles are created using Apple’s tools and not just lowest common denominator Java/Flash/.Net/Mono tools that do nothing to differentiate apps on the iPhone; taking a revenue share that gives Apple a slice of the tremendous value it created in building the App Store (following the lead of Nintendo in gaming), and exerting control over how third party apps work on its platform.
If you want to find an analog of the old Apple, look no further from the young new Google, which has not benefited from the scars of experience in having its own platform wrestled away by Microsoft in the early 90s. Google is doing everything Apple got wrong the first time: allowing anything on Android, having no security mechanisms, not getting any support from third party developers, and porting its own value to other platforms in exchange for nothing.
Android is also making all the same mistakes as Microsoft made: no quality standards, no thought given to security, and a readiness to kill off any competitors that encroach upon its own plans.
Can you imagine TomTom and Garmin investing any significant efforts to bring real GPS apps to Android with the platform now starting out with a free alternative? The media is already presenting Google’s Maps Navigation as a standalone GPS killer, just as they were quick to anoint Office 95 as the killer of Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect. If TechCrunch is worried about centralized control and a technological monoculture in mobile devices, this is an odd way to celebrate it.
If there really is a good versus evil war between Google and Apple, Google’s next step will be to deliver an app and/or service that Apple can’t simply adopt in its next revision of the iPhone OS. It hasn’t done that yet. Instead, we have the same thing we’ve always had: Google benefitting from Apple’s iPhone success as its primary search partner, and the anti-iPhone world all bothered about trying to find an iPhone killer.