It’s so tempting to get drawn into the ego battles between Steve Jobs and the Google Triumverate, while placing bets on who will win, that we can forget a deeper truth about this rivalry: Google and Apple need each other.

In the world of technology, drama is a valuable commodity. Disruptive change may happen in the minutiae of software code or the gradual execution of a business plan, but we see its effects in the dramatic narratives of companies rising and falling, or getting locked in combat with each other. Which is why the rivalry between Google and Apple is such a compelling story.

It’s so tempting to get drawn into the ego battles between Steve Jobs and the Google triumvirate while placing bets on who will win that it’s easy to forget a deeper truth about this rivalry: Google and Apple need each other.

They both have a deep desire to stake out claims on the mobile web, but the mobile web is in a nascent stage. In order to develop, it needs to have both rigid structure and a sometimes reckless creativity. Structure is necessary to provide a strong foundation and a set of standards everyone can understand. And creativity is essential to bringing the innovative potential of the mobile web into full bloom.

This dichotomy was present when the Internet began to develop in the early 90s. Many people who came online then did so through America Online’s walled gardens, a safe little enclave where consumers and content providers alike could create the rules of a new medium. Then the web itself took off and sites like Yahoo and GeoCities offered a much more creative environment to explore what else could be done.

Now it’s happening again, only with Apple and Google. Apple’s stern and unforgiving approach to the iPhone offers the structure this new medium needs to succeed. Cupertino’s control-freak tendencies stretch from enforcing adherence to ever-changing app guidelines to banishing plastic screen protectors from its retail stores.

Google’s approach is nearly the opposite, much more open and free-wheeling. Its Android OS, based on the Linux kernel, has so many versions available the company is struggling to consolidate them. The Android Market is such an unregulated affair that it’s hard for anyone to count the number of apps on sale.

Google’s culture has built into it a tolerance for the failures that come with creative experiments. Its 70-20-10 rule seems rooted on that spirit of tolerance — how many companies require employees to spend time on something that may never fly? — and Google has floated so many failed ideas it’s hard to keep track of them all. Apple, by contrast, starts with an instinctive idea of how consumers will experience its products and fits everything, even the ecosystem of apps that extends beyond its corporate walls, into making it work.

It’s in the tension between these two companies and their respective cultures that the mobile web is being forged. But as America Online found out, the walls eventually come down as consumers grow more comfortable with the new medium and desert the walled garden. That would suggest the balance will tip in favor of Google.

But I would be surprised if Apple isn’t anticipating this evolution. Right now, iPhone owners are experiencing the mobile web through the 150,000 or so apps it offers through the App Store. But Apple has also backed HTML5, which allows a smartphone browser to have rich app-like features without requiring any new software to be downloaded. Just as people stopped downloading AOL’s software and switched to browsers, we may well abandon most of the apps on our phones today.

Both companies will continue to play a major role on the mobile web, but I doubt either will ever gain the upper hand. This dramatic tension between Apple and Google may be around for a long time. So executives at both might as well get used to it.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. very clever opinion. I am in favor of google btw. :-)

  2. [...] Post By Google News Click Here For The Entire Article Review Google Cash [...]

  3. Yes, let’s not personalized any corps. Good to remember, given the recent Supreme Court decision, that corporations are not people. In fact, they have more rights than people do and they live forever. Kinda like the Frankenstein monster. And they view us humans as a form of Soylent Green.

  4. All Apple has to do is destroy google
    ad business in iPhone/iPad ecosystem.

    Google can have the Web but it cannot
    dictate anything in the app business.
    It is not the Internet and they didn’t
    create it. Apple is going to raise
    the cost of free ride that google is enjoying.

  5. “very clever opinion. I am in favor of google btw. :-)”

    In favor of Google? The Google that mindlessly decided on it’s own with Google Buzz that no one needs their privacy or should have that option to decide? Until people started screaming about it that is.

    I’ll err on the side of common sense and some protection and go Apple all the way instead of the type of corporate recklessness of a Google or the cluelessness of a Microsoft. What some people see as Apple’s over zealous behavior (i.e. restricting certain apps on the App Store, etc.) I see as protecting the consumer and to try not to kill the mobile web Golden Goose with total tech anarchy. Obviously though THEY will have to exercise common sense in not getting too carried away with their policies and skirt censorship issues. I know questions of “who guards the guardians?” inevitably will come up but Apple seems to be the most trustworthy of all the disparate “evils.”

    1. The Google that mindlessly decided on it’s own with Google Buzz that no one needs their privacy or should have that option to decide?

      I wish people who don’t have supporting facts would just shut up talking about Google Buzz already. From day number 1 that Google Buzz was launched, absolutely no private information was ever made public without explicit consent of the users. The only information that Buzz ever published was information that people had already chosen to make public.

      All this talk about Buzz publishing private information has about as much truth as the death panels in the healthcare bill.

  6. It’s most likely the personalities under scrutiny are liable to bump into each other somewhere with some privacy – and share a bottle of wine while discussing common issues and answers discretely, friendly, well away from the emotional baggage assigned to them by journalists.

  7. [...] Why Apple and Google Need Each Other – GigaOM [...]

  8. Point no. 1 – this article only talks about why the mobile Web supposedly needs Google and Apple. It doesn’t really talk about why Apple and Google need each other. So, the title is somewhat misleading.

    Point no. 2 – the mobile Web doesn’t really need the dictatorial restrictions of Apple. If Apple were to stop existing as a company tomorrow, there would be almost no adverse effect on the mobile Web. It would flourish just fine. If Google were to stop existing tomorrow, the progression of the mobile Web would slow down. But it would still flourish in the long run.

    Just imagine this – if all Apple products were to magically disappear from the world this instant, it wouldn’t be such a great loss. But if all Google products were to disappear, finding content online would be extremely difficult until another search engine became as good as Google.

  9. Louis Wheeler Saturday, March 20, 2010

    I see no drama between Apple and Google; Neither confronts the other directly because they are serving different market segments.

    Do both have operating systems? Yes, but each is carefully targeted not to attack the other. Mac OSX is designed to sell Apple’s premium hardware. Google’s Chrome OS is designed to protect from sabotage by Microsoft; That way Google can continue to make money from ads. It is a bonus for Google’s customers that the Chrome OS will be less susceptible to malware than Windows.

    Google’s initial entry into hardware will be a Chrome NetBook. Apple’s iPad is unlikely to draw many people from the NetBook market; most of its users will never have had a computer before.

    Since there are billions of feature phone users who can convert to smart phones, it is unimportant that Apple and Google have phone OS’s. Each company will draw different market segments. The company being hurt by this is Microsoft’s Phone 7 because Google directly competes with it.

  10. Interesting battle with differing goals. Seems to me Apple wants dominance to make money selling refined hardware supported by an integrated ecosystem that also generates a moderate income stream; Google wants to dominate online advertising for its income. Google has a beta in every venue, trying to steer advertising to its channels. Unfortunately most Google trial balloons never reach a level much above “good enough.” Most of its products seem unfinished.


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