Why Apple suddenly needs Google again

Why Apple suddenly needs Google again

Summary: Before you get caught up in this week's Apple's announcements, there's another factor that could inject new life into the Apple ecosystem.

TOPICS: Software, Apple, Google
Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt warmly shake hands at the original iPhone launch in 2007. | Image: Apple

Once back-slapping friends, the relationship between Apple and Google was torpedoed by the ascendency of Android. Eric Schmidt resigned from the Apple board, Steve Jobs declared "thermonuclear war" against Android, and little by little Apple disentangled Google services from its products as retaliation.

It's that last point that that Apple must now reconsider.

As much as any product announcements Apple will make this week, renewing its partnership with Google on services would re-energize the Apple ecosystem. There are mixed signals in terms of the likelihood of such a move. But, there is a scenario in which a renewal of ties could be good for both companies while still allowing them to compete as stewards of the world's two largest mobile device platforms.

As you follow the flurry of iPhone news this week, keep in mind that Apple devices don't just need larger screens and fashionable hardware and lower prices for emerging markets. No, what Apple devices need more than anything else is data and services. These are not things that the company can develop quickly and they are not core competencies. Apple is now in a position where it is going to have to partner well and integrate swiftly. And, it's going to need to allow deeper hooks into the platform for developers.

In its recent Oral History of Apple Design, Fast Company observed:

"One of the key ingredients in Amazon, Facebook, and Google is data. Those businesses were built on deep technical understanding of how to manage swaths of data. Apple doesn't know how to do that."

I've been using iPhone and Android side-by-side every day since the beginning of 2010. Over the past year I've increasingly spent more time on Android because that device knows me better, regularly anticipates my needs, and integrates more smoothly with the services that I care about.

At the center of this experience sits Google Now, one of the first applications that has demonstrated the value of big data to consumers. Apple can't replicate that. It doesn't have enough of the data or the expertise to make it actionable. Even Google can't replicate it on iOS at the moment. It has already released an iPhone version of Google Now, but the service is inconspicuously tucked away in the Google search app and its usefulness is limited by the mediocre iOS notifications system.

The problem is that because of larger business conflicts, Apple has acted punitively toward partners such as Google and Amazon and limited the functionality of their services in the iOS ecosystem. In both cases, it has hurt iOS and Apple's users far more than Google or Amazon.

In terms of Google, Apple has spent a lot of effort in removing deep integration with Google apps and services. It killed the native YouTube app that had been built into iOS and it stopped using Google Maps to power the built-in Maps app and replaced it with its own Apple Maps, which has been nothing short of a functional and PR disaster. Google has released its own third-party versions of both apps and they are now among the most downloaded free apps by iPhone and iPad users. However, in both cases, they've lost the deep integration with iOS itself.

iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s: Connecting up the dots in Apple's plans

iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s: Connecting up the dots in Apple's plans

iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s: Connecting up the dots in Apple's plans

In the case of Amazon, Apple disallowed app providers from integrating or even linking to their e-commerce stores from within their iOS apps, unless they shared the revenue with Apple. As a result, Internet companies such as Amazon that already operate on thin profit margins have effectively had to remove shopping functionality from their apps.

In Amazon's case, this meant removing the ability to find and purchase ebooks from within its Kindle app and the ability to find and purchase audiobooks from within its Audible app. You now have to make those purchases from the web browser and then go back into the app and download them. It's an inconvenient user experience.

As a result, this issue of deep integration is an area where iOS is losing to Android. The convoluted purchase issue is one thing (in Android, you can still purchase Kindle books and Audible audiobooks from directly within the apps). However, the larger issue is the deeper hooks that Android allows developers to get into the platform itself. There are security and privacy implications, but the functionality benefits are substantial.

I have many of the same apps and services installed on both iPhone and Android. The iPhone versions of most apps have almost always been better-designed, updated more regularly, and nicer to look at. Nevertheless, over the past year I keep gravitated toward Android more and more for interacting with excellent services like Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, Pocket, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Flickr, etc. Instead of having to go into the apps to do everything like I have to do in iPhone, in Android there are menu options to upload things, share things, and save things from virtually any web page or file or app or service. It eliminates extra steps and it creates a more powerful set of options.

That's why it's time for Apple to stop blocking valuable partners from offering robust functionality in iOS and to start allowing more companies deeper access into the iOS platform. And the company it show go to and convince to be first in line is Google.

Google has stated time after time that its primary motivation is promoting greater Internet usage in general and the company has continued to produce quality iOS apps from Gmail to Google+ to Chrome to its Google search app with excellent voice recognition. Google won't take much convincing to go deeper on iOS.

And, Apple can still differentiate itself from Android by also cutting deals with Yahoo and Microsoft to leverage their massive audiences, popular services, and mountains of data in deeper and more meaningful ways on the iPhone. Both of those companies are already doing excellent iOS apps as well. It won't take much convincing if Apple offers to open up the Kimono and let them see what they can do in iOS to use their own big data stacks to deliver more powerful user experiences.

When Apple first launched the iPhone in 2007, it was closed to third-party apps, other than a few select partners. A year later, when Apple opened up the platform more broadly to developers, that's when the mobile app explosion happened and the iPhone really took off and leapt ahead of its smartphone rivals. Now, one of the best opportunities for Apple take another big leap forward is to open up its platform more deeply to developers in order to unleash a fresh wave of innovation. The company's favorite neighbor in Mountain View should be the first partner on the list.

The long thawing of the frosty relationship between Google and Apple has been uneven, to say the least. Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt met at a cafe in 2010. Larry Page visited Jobs on his deathbed in 2011. Tim Cook and Larry Page reportedly met in 2012 to talk about settling the patent war between the two companies.

In July 2013, Schmidt said that he had "a lot of respect for Apple." He also indicated, "We're sort of in constant, constant business discussions on a long list of issues. These are two proud, well-run, different companies."

At the January 2007 event where Apple announced the iPhone, Jobs invited a handful of special guests on stage to show that key partners were invested in the iPhone. One of them was was Google's then-CEO (and Apple board member) Schmidt.

In introducing Schmidt, Jobs said, "[The iPhone is] the Internet in your pocket for the first time ever. Now, you can't really think about the Internet, of course, without thinking about Google… We're working with them on Google Search … and Google Maps. We've been working very closely with them to make this all happen and we're thrilled with the results."

Has too much happened for the companies to work together that well again? To no one's surprise, Google still appears to be willing. The difference now is that Apple needs Google's partnership more than ever. That sets the stage for a new collaboration that could benefit both companies, and hundreds of millions of users.

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Topics: Software, Apple, Google

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  • Personally,....

    ...I hope that Apple takes Mr. Schmidt and Google to take a flying leap.
    • Make that "tells", not "takes"

      How about an editor, ZDnet?
    • Ha

      They can tell them what they want but, Apple is steadfastly losing every market they have been a player in for the past several years.

      The new media players with high end audio and Sony's Vita TV are the last two areas they had left.

      So, Apple better be careful because they might need somebody else to come bail them out again and Bill isn't coming back anytime soon.
      • If Apple burns through US$150 BILLION no bailout is going to help.

        As for Vita TV, it's an interesting way to play your portable games on a TV. Beyond that, it's currently got no US release date, and until you can get Breaking Bad on it, it's never going to be something like Apple TV.
      • slickjim - appropriate name for someone who is selling snake oil

        "Apple is steadfastly losing every market they have been a player in for the past several years."

        This is not a true statement, if you want people to take you seriously, don't post lies.

        For example, Apple has gained market share in the US and in Europe over the past 12 months. They have done this, mind you, with no new phones or innovation, as you would put it. Question for you? Why has that happened?

        Also, the area of the world (like China and Japan) where Apple has lost market share is due at least in part to the fact that they don't even sell into the largest markets yet. For example, Apple doesn't even sell their devices to China Mobile or to Japan's DeCoCoMo. Of course this is all about to change. So, you really should consider some really basic facts which don't take a whole lot of intelligence to see before you make these overtly bias statements against Apple.
        • Market Share?

          I don't know where you get your "dream on" data, but Apple is loosing market share, of both iPhone and iPad. http://venturebeat.com/2013/09/09/analysts-ios-growth-lags-and-ipad-is-losing-market-share/
          And in real terms in the US as well. A couple of years back they had well over 50% of that market, so up a couple of points in the quarter, but down about 20 points overall. Oh I forgot performance is measured in the last quarter in the US, but other companies have longer term score cards. The measurement is not against past market, but total available PRESENT market. Like 1 billion active Android devices.
          • Yes, market share.

            How about you restrict yourself to posting about things you know something about?
            Apples U.S. market share over the last 4 quarters has risen six points from 34% to 40%.
            You were saying?
        • Difficult to be gentle...

          towards "lesmorton" after you managed to be both incredibly rude and totally inaccurate in a single sentence! Apple's Mobile Device market share HAS been steadily DECLINING and is now at a 3-year low. You owe slickjim an apology for your ill-tempered name-calling, as well as an apology to the rest of us, for getting in our faces with your ignorance.
          • Sauce for the goose…

            How about you just refrain from posting, unless you research your position first. As pointed out above, as stated by lesmorton, Apple's U.S. market share is up 6 points year over year.
      • It's all about the margins.

        Apple makes an insane margin on their hardware. All the other players figure they can take that market by offering equivalent goods with lower margins.

        It's pretty much a tech biz law that all electronics hardware margins settle down around 15%. If you can't make "enough" money at that margin, there's something wrong with your business model.
        Jacob VanWagoner
      • Marketshare...

        Whether this was intended as flamebait or not...I'll bite...

        Marketshare can go up or down and in a general sense matters more to tech fans and bloggers than it does to the companies themselves unless their business model is predicated on it. The goal for a company is to make money. Some do this by pursuing specific or broad marketshare while others have other priorities. Either way when even talking about marketshare you have to be sure that the company you're talking about is describing the same market you are. Fan and bloggers tend to generalize while many companies don't.

        Apple tends to target their markets to maximize their profits. This doesn't always align with what tech fans and bloggers want to see but it is what it is and works for Apple. This is a big reason why so many don't understand Apple. They don't just throw ideas up on the wall to see what sticks and they don't just go after every market out there.

        Do they always make the right decision? Nope. Do they always do things that please their own "fans"? Hell, no! Do they know how to make money? I think they've done "pretty good" there so far.

        Articles and then responses like yours crack me up. The reason companies tend to fail usually has nothing to do with the direction they're going but in the execution of going the direction they chose. Most companies get the direction right but are just not as good as others at executing and competing. In other words if Apple really needs to improve their services offering, I'd bet that they have things in the works. Will it come from them, google, or someone else? I don't know. Will it be late to the party? It already is if it's really needed. Will it affect their sales and profits? Tough to say. Some make the argument that their Maps rollout was a dismal failure yet they sold a megaton of iPhones. Again, some don't seem to understand the dynamics of business and the market Apple is selling to. I'm sure it was a dismal failure to some but in the end there were a much, much bigger portion of the market that was happy with their iphone and Apple has made strides to improve it. Personally I was pretty frustrated with it not getting me where I needed to go and had some choice words for Apple but then I fired up Google and got even more ridiculous locations for other destinations I needed to go to. Even recently on a trip to Rochester, MN Google estimated a time that was an hour and a half faster than Apple's on the same exact route. Guess which time was more realistic when I drove it? Yeah, it was that fruit company that had the dismal Maps rollout. Apparently Google thought I would be driving about 80-90 all the way there and my 70 wasn't fast enough.
      • Learn about business before commenting

        Their sales are steady or rising. The market itself is growing, so their market share may go down but not their sales. And they're still one of the most profitable companies in the world and the most valuable.
        new gawker
      • As pointed out to you REPEATEDLY, MS NEVER bailed out Apple

        Get your facts straight or shut up.
  • Apple should partner more deeply with Microsoft

    Apple is supposedly already using Microsoft Azure and related services. Both have a long history of working together as frenemies unlike Google.

    Both also have similar ideologies, though Apple is more closed than Microsoft.

    Apple's user base will bring tremendous impetus to Bing and related services. This would be a better partnership any day compared to Google.
  • Google??

    China can't even use google service. So why would Apple needs Google for data and service?? Apple need more Chinese Internet services providers.
    • Not even an issue for Android.

      Chinese manufacturers can use or provide Chinese services. Bit of a problem for Apple.
      • It's a good thing that Apple figured that out

        before pushing the iPhone out to China. Guess they're not exactly as dumb as we thought they were now, huh? :B
  • I have to disagree with every statement the author makes.

    By NO means does Apple need Google again; not even Amazon. The author's claim that Apple can't handle reams of data is obviously pure bunk since Apple handles billions of downloads of apps and media through its various media stores. " Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, Pocket, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Flickr, etc.," in one way or another do exist for the iPhone and are at least as efficient if not more so due to the integration with Apple's other devices--including the Mac itself. Since I don't see any reason to use Google+ (Facebook is good enough for my taste) and Google Drive, Flickr and others have Apple equivalents that work just as well if not better through their data integration across platforms. Sure, it's not the techie way of always doing things the most tweaky way possible, but it works and works well for the average consumer. As for Chrome, G+ and Gmail... I simply don't see a need for them. I don't use any one of them more frequently than once a week and that's only because a gaming friend uses G+ and Gmail. Chrome is only pulled out IF I've got Safari doing something else and I don't want to open any more tabs.
    • Wow, did you ever not get it

      "The author's claim that Apple can't handle reams of data is obviously pure bunk since Apple handles billions of downloads of apps and media through its various media stores"

      That isn't reams of data, that is the same static data delivered many times. Wow, these apple folk sure don't understand a thing.

      apple DID try to handle reams of data. Twice. ping and maps. Both have been unmitigated disasters and have turned apple into the laughing stock of the tech market.

      Why don't you actually try to read what the author said. He spends more time on Android because ios sucks. I switched from ios to WP8 last year because ios sucks. Do you disagree that both of us have spent less time with ios and more time with other OSs? You calling us liars?

      Kudos to Google, Samsung, and Android for innovating the smartphone. apple might have gotten there before Google did but Google did it better. Isn't that what we hear "counts" whenever the apologies start flying for apple?
      • You don't know what the word mitigated means do you?

        Apple has, literally, mitigated that maps "disaster."