Google CEO Eric Schmidt wowed (and scared) the crowd at TechCrunch Disrupt Sept. 28 when he talked about autonomous search and serendipity engines, but he also piqued curiosity by framing Google as open and Apple as closed.
If you really think about it, Google's open strategy can be limited by companies taking open-source platforms and adapting them for their own benefit.
Schmidt noted at the event:
"Google's core strategy is openness. Other companies, notably Apple, have a core strategy of closedness."
Schmidt later explained that developers of iOS, Apple's mobile OS, must use Apple's development tools to build apps for Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad tablet.
Apple must approve apps submitted for iOS, which are then distributed on the iPhone and iPad through AT&T, the sole iPhone and iPad carrier in the U.S.
Schmidt noted that Google's iOS rival, the open-source Android OS, runs Adobe's Flash and supports HTML5. Apple eschews Flash.
Framed this way, it gives Google a halo and Apple a pair of horns, a goatee and a black Jobsian turtleneck.
One funny thing about Google's openness is that the company is open where it sees fit to be open. Google's search engine and collaboration applications are, for better or worse, super-closed. The company has all sorts of reasons why those apps are closed.
Know what the other funny thing about Google's openness is? Open depends on your perspective.
For some people, open becomes closed the minute other companies put crapware people don't want on their phones under the banner of providing consumer choice.
Schmidt noted that the good thing about carriers is that while they can add these sorts of apps people may not want, they can't delete or deny other apps users would want.
"Openness is adding choices and if you don't like those apps, you can buy a vendor that does not have those apps on it. With the level of competition of Android, we suspect that if you and the majority of people feel very strongly about those apps you don't like, those vendors will get a clear message that those apps need to be deleted. That's how markets work."
Apple, he suggested, does this. Case in point: Apple's banning of not only Flash, but apps such as Google Voice (for competing with the iPhone). That's set to change soon since Apple's loosening of the reins, but it was still a major pain for Google Voice/iPhone users.
Here's one situation, also courtesy of Verizon Wireless, consumers can't delete. Microsoft's niche Bing search engine, not Google's search engine, is inserted on the Samsung Fascinate Android device. Supposedly this will change in the boost to Android 2.2, but it's still an inconvenience to the majority of customers who buy the phone.
Again, this would never happen on the iPhone.
Other differences between Google's and Apple's approaches present as statistical, rather than philosophical.
There are more than 60 devices -- smartphones, tablets and soon TVs -- running Android today. Schmidt ticked off the stats at Disrupt: 200,000 Android devices shipping daily from 21 OEMs and 59 carriers in 49 countries.
Apple, meanwhile, ships one new version of its popular iPhone each year. Feature for feature, few put any fresh Android handset above the iPhone 4 or even the iPhone 3GS.
But this proprietary system is so closed Apple had to relax its developer terms for its App Store or risk losing users to Android. Que lastima! Imagine the horror!
Still, there are fewer fart apps, spam and bloatware among the 250,000-plus apps in Apple's App Store. Meanwhile, there are multiple spammy apps in Android's Market of 85,000 or so apps.
If Apple's App Store is a pristine shopping mall in an affluent neighborhood, Android Market is a minimart in a suburban strip mall. Moreover, you can only buy Android apps in about 13 countries, though that is changing soon.
So, I get what Schmidt means by open, but openness means that market entities can build their own little walled gardens using Android as cover.
Those companies will position these offerings as shops that provide more user choice. Of course, if they are superior to the Android Market users won't buy apps from Google's store.
Google may claim not to care much -- it will make up for this loss in the billions of dollars' worth of mobile search and other ads served by AdMob on Android phones.
But it's still an example of how Google's adoption of the open ethos can close it off from the market.