iHypocrite: Why Jobs Was Wrong to Go Thermonuclear on Android

 
 
By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-10-25 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

It feels painfully petty calling a deceased man who brought the world so much joy with consumer electronics devices hypocritical, but bloggers have to tell it like it is.

One of the themes that has bubbled up in the wake of Apple founder Steve Jobs' passing has been the idea that Jobs blasted Google for copying the iPhone with Android after spending so many years copying Zerox PARC, and even the schema for Android's notifications.

Brian Ford has a great list of products Apple has copied and improved. You can start with PARC and its shaping of the Macintosh, move to the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

What's up with that? Is the argument that Apple copied its predecessors and contemporaries better than Google and its Android OEMs, making it acceptable. Maybe Jobs believed he and Apple to be great artists while Google and others are merely good copiers?

"I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this," Jobs told Walter Isaacson, author of the authorized "Steve Jobs" biography, concerning the patent lawsuit Apple filed against cell phone manufacturer HTC. What if Xerox or any others decided to attack Apple for ripping off? "Our lawsuit is saying, 'Google you f***ing ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off,'" Jobs said, according to Isaacson. "I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product."

TechDirt's Michael Masnick wisely nailed it:

Part of the way innovation works is that you build on the works of others. That doesn't just mean wholesale copying, but trying to take what works and improve on it -- or take what doesn't work well and figure out a way to make it work better. Steve Jobs did this many, many times, but so have Google and many other companies. It seems rather hypocritical to get all bent out of shape because others are doing the same thing.

So why would Jobs blast Android after being friendly with Google since the search engine's inception? Ford and Masnick argue that Jobs views Android as such a poor copy and that the business model of an ecosystem is fantastically flawed, even in its bent on openness.

Masnick noted:

Steve Jobs came from a very top-down world view, in which the brilliant designers (him, Jonathan Ive, etc.) designed everything perfectly. Google's world view seems to be more about setting up the system, and then letting others design the improvements. That's messier, clunkier and a hell of a lot uglier at first. But in the long run, I think it tends to lead to much greater innovation. Just not the kind of innovation you unveil as "and one more thing...

Ford added: "I would argue that the reason Steve Jobs was so irate about Android (beyond the personal betrayal of Eric Schmidt) is that it seems to aspire to little more than a "good enough" facsimile of iOS, and most of Google's hardware partners are slavishly aiming for "iPhone-like" hardware designs."

So Jobs declared thermonuclear war because Android offended his sensibility of what is perfect? Sounds like a tempting angle. Headline: "Perfectionist Jobs Sues for the Sake of Perfection."

Here's my more myopic take: He did it for money and market share.

Apple makes tens of million of dollars selling its iPhone. Sprint was reported to have to pay Apple $700 a pop for the privilege of selling the hallowed handset. Name me another consumer electronics model with better margins. Google doesn't make that kind of money from the "free" Android. It snacks on ads served via mobile.

Android phones are pervasive. Every owner of one represents one fewer person owning an iPhone (more often than not).

To a man like Jobs, who believes his design and model are superior, Android is a pernicious weed taking money and market share from Apple's iOS products.

Jobs probably sees Android as the new Microsoft Windows of mobile. Look how the Windows PCs versus Apple Mac machines battle turned out. Microsoft kicked Apple's ass in the market. Jobs was clearly seeing a repeat Android versus his mobile platform. Indeed, Jobs also told Isaccson neither Microsoft nor Google get it.

Consider the Jobsian melodrama concerning the "copying" Android allegedly do as more of his showmanship, his "reality distortion field" to convince the world Android and those who truck with it are evil.

Armed with that malignant seed, Jobs and Co. are sowing doubt about the Android platform and ecosystem. So far, this play hasn't impinged Android's smartphone growth. And Android tablets are just starting to get off the ground.

But Apple is a few successful cases from winning a lot of money from Android OEMs. Just look at Microsoft, which collects millions of dollars in licensing fees from 10 Android OEMs. There's money to be had in them there Android hills.

Jobs is merely waxing mercenary as a businessman, playing hard ball in the Major Leagues of technology. It should keep iPhone and iPad sales on the upswing and possibly put more money in Apple's already chock-full coffers along the way. It's smart business, even if it comes across as bastardly business.

Of course, Jobs could also be super generous. I wrote just yesterday how Jobs agreed to meet with Google CEO Larry Page.

But accusing Android of wholesale infringement is case of pot meeting the kettle.

 
 
 
 
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