Inside the Apple-Google War: It's PersonalS

The New York Times has a long, juicy look at what's been going on behind the scenes with the ever-escalating conflict between Google and Apple. The cause for all the enmity, according to insiders? Ego.

When Apple filed suit against HTC earlier this month, it was clear that Google and Apple's romance had turned sour. But the Times' article, which draws on "interviews with two dozen industry watchers, Silicon Valley investors and current and former employees at both companies," offers a sense of just how personal this battle is and always has been. The writers begin by summarizing:

At the heart of their dispute is a sense of betrayal: Mr. Jobs believes that Google violated the alliance between the companies by producing cellphones that physically, technologically and spiritually resembled the iPhone. In short, he feels that his former friends at Google picked his pocket.

The article starts with the good old days, when the two companies were cooperative and when the individuals that ran them were close. What brought them together, initially, was a common adversary:

Although Mr. Jobs and Mr. Schmidt both began working in Silicon Valley in the late 1970s, their paths rarely crossed. But by 2001, with Mr. Jobs back at Apple and Mr. Schmidt running Google, they shared a singular mission: limiting Microsoft's hegemony to the personal computer and ensuring that Bill Gates didn't dominate the frontier of online services and mobile devices...By all accounts, Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Jobs were never close friends. But they dined together on several occasions, according to a former associate of Mr. Schmidt's, and Mr. Jobs never hesitated to call Mr. Schmidt directly to voice his opinions.

But even before the mutually-beneficial industry chuminess between Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt, Jobs had a personal relationship with Google's cofounders. In the company's early days, the article explains, Larry Page and Sergey Brin "considered Mr. Jobs a mentor," and they did the things that mentors and mentees do:

[Sergey] Brin was also known to take long walks with Mr. Jobs near his house in Palo Alto, and in the nearby foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. According to colleagues, they discussed the future of technology and planned some joint ventures that never came to fruition - like a collaborative effort to develop a version of Apple's Safari browser for Windows.

Google's development of Android, however, was the thin end of the wedge, and even in its early stages was a source of tension. The article recounts one Android-related meeting between Jobs and Google that sounds mighty uncomfortable:

At one particularly heated meeting in 2008 on Google's campus, Mr. Jobs angrily told Google executives that if they deployed a version of multitouch - the popular iPhone feature that allows users to control their devices with flicks of their fingers - he would sue. Two people briefed on the meeting described it as "fierce" and "heated."

Eventually, we on the outside caught wind of the conflict. As early as January 2008, Jobs was slighting Android, and a year after that we heard that Apple had stopped multitouch on Android altogether. We watched things get publicly uncomfortable when Apple rejected Google Voice from the app store. And soon we saw their acquisitions become undeniably competitive, Apple allegedly feeling that Google "stole" AdMob from them and preemptively gobbling up Lala in return. On the AdMob acquisition, the article reveals that Apple had a 45-day window in which it could have purchased the company for $600 million, but they stalled and Google swept in to outbid them. After this move, a source says, "Mr. Jobs speculated that AdMob might have violated its legal obligations, with help from Google."

At the time, the AdMob saga suggested that the stakes were being raised in the face-off, and Apple's recent patent infringement suit against HTC was just further confirmation that the bad blood was turning into a blood bath.

In January we heard that Apple was in talks with Microsoft to replace Google with Bing as the default search engine on iPhones and iPads, and the Times article ends by mentioning that "One Apple employee says that Qi Lu, the president of Microsoft's online services division, was recently seen visiting Apple's campus in Cupertino to discuss such a deal."

Of course, the companies still won't come out and admit what we all know to be true. Apple declined to comment for the Times' article, and Google played dumb, a spokesperson offering, "Apple is a valued partner, and we have great respect for everything they have done for technology for more than 30 years." Eric Schmidt himself, said, "I continue to believe, as many do, that Steve Jobs is the best C.E.O. in the world today, and I admire Apple and Steve enormously." But, as it's said, actions speak louder than words.

The Apple-Google war is waged by massive, relentless corporations, but it is fueled by the bruised egos of a few men. Given a better picture of how personal the conflict has been all along, it's hard to imagine the giants reconciling anytime soon. [NY Times]