A few years ago, everything was peaceful in the Valley of Silicon. The relationship between Apple and Google was cozy and friendly. The two rising and dominant superpowers pursued compatible, non-overlapping businesses, for the most part, and helped each other fight mutual competitors like Microsoft, Amazon and others. Google’s founders worshiped Steve Jobs. Eric Schmidt was on the Apple board.
But then Google recklessly chose to attack Apple head-on with Android.
The future of Apple’s most profitable businesses will run iOS, including iPods, iPhones, iPads and probably laptop and desktop systems of the future — not to mention TV. Google’s decision to compete head-on with Apple for multi-touch platforms ended the alliance.
Steve Jobs took it personally, and told biographer Walter Isaacson that he was “willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”
But what did he mean by that?
Everyone assumes he meant lawsuits, which in fact Jobs mentioned in the context of this conflict. But that was merely the part already publicly disclosed. What Jobs did not reveal was the secret thermonuclear war to come.
I believe Apple is waging two wars against Google: One is a cold-war style proxy campaign via patent lawsuits.
But the other employs the nuclear option: The scorched-earth elimination of Google across all Apple platforms.
The Proxy Wars
In the context of Jobs’ thermonuclear war, he mentioned lawsuits. But you’ll notice that Apple isn’t suing Google itself.
Such a lawsuit would have little impact. Because Apple and Google are both American companies, a patent lawsuit against Google would mean the two companies would go to court in the US. This single case would drag on for years, while handset makers happily continued making Android devices knowing that deep-pocketed Google would, in a worst-case scenario, pay money or tweak Android in future versions to avoid specific infringements found by the courts.
Instead, Apple chose to fight via an endless series of proxy wars. So far, the company has gone after Android device makers Samsung, Motorola and HTC. Expect many more.
The message to Google’s hardware partners is: Go ahead and invest in the development of Android phones and tablets. But your investment may be squandered when we surprise you with lawsuits and other court actions in random countries at unpredictable times.
It’s called FUD, for “fear, uncertainty and doubt.” The calculation to make Android devices now includes the risk of lawsuits, injunctions, extra licensing fees to Apple and possible court orders to stop using Android.
So far, the proxy war hasn’t made a dent in the Android universe. But this is a long war, and the strategy could erode enthusiasm for Android by hardware makers in the long run.
The proxy war is Apple’s strategy for poisoning Google’s Android well. It’s war, but not thermonuclear war.
I believe the real thermonuclear option will be the near-total elimination of Google services on Apple platforms.
The Real Thermonuclear War
The real thermonuclear war will take place on the iOS platform itself, where I believe Apple will seek to replace the widespread use of Google services and apps with Apple ones.
Here are the bombs Apple has dropped or will drop in the near future:
Nuke #1: Siri to replace Google Search. Even Google’s Eric Schmidt has admitted recently that Siri is a threat to Google Search. And he’s right. In fact the ingrained habit of Googling things is already being replaced among some iPhone 4s users of just asking Siri for answers.
By default, some of those requests are handled by Wolfram-Alpha, and others by Google, the current default search engine for Siri. (You can request other search engines, and Siri will happily comply.)
Three things will turn the Siri hand-grenade into an atomic bomb: First, the use of Siri will become universal among iPhone users (right now, it’s just a fast-growing app for the minority of users with iPhone 4s phones).
Second, Apple will almost certainly roll Siri out to all platforms, enabling people with Macs and iPads to have their questions answered by Siri as an alternative to browser-based Google searches.
And third — and this is the big one — Apple will throw a switch, I believe, and make another search engine the default for Siri (and Safari).
Boom! No more Google Search.
Nuke #2: Find My Friends to replace Google Latitude
Location-based services like Latitude are pretty insignificant now, but important for the future of mobile social networking and location-based advertising and marketing. Apple has its Find My Friends app available as an option, but in the future I believe will bake it right into all platforms, and provide a strong disincentive to use Latitude.
Nuke #3: Yelp to replace Google Places
When Siri ranks restaurants for you, it uses Yelp, not Google Places. Had Apple’s and Google’s relationship remained strong, this probably wouldn’t have been the case.
Nuke #4: Apple’s maps to replace Google Maps
Apple recently bought a mapping company called C3. Apple had previously acquired mapping companies Placebase and Poly9. It seems pretty obvious that Apple intends to launch its own mapping service so it doesn’t have to keep using Google Maps, which is currently bundled on all iPhones and iPads.
Once Apple is ready to launch its own Maps-like service and application based on these three acquisitions, you can be sure they’ll drop Maps from iOS devices, and flip the switch on Siri’s default mapping service as well.
Nuke #5: iCloud to replace Google’s cloud
With iCloud so fully integrated with all of Apple’s devices and platforms, Apple users will be unlikely to have much need for Google’s many cloud services.
Nuke #6: iMessage to replace Google Gmail and Talk
iCloud integration on iOS devices will compel many current Gmail users to use Apple services for email. The same goes for Calendar and Contacts. The introduction of iCloud in iOS 5 makes synching with Gmail harder, and replacing Gmail easier.
After the bombs have been dropped and the dust has cleared, Google will find itself will barely any presence at all on Apple devices like Macs, iPads and iPhones. This represents literally hundreds of millions of users.
While Google will still have lots of users worldwide, they will suffer greatly from this because Apple users tend to be on the high end of the spectrum for ad targeting.
Steve Jobs threatened thermonuclear war. And I think Apple will deliver. But it will come not in the form of lawsuits, but on the near-total elimination of Google from Apple platforms.