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Innovation

Minority Report: Apple and Google - a beautiful enmity blossoms

And why the Nexus One won't dethrone the iPhone
Written by Seb Janacek, Contributor on

And why the Nexus One won't dethrone the iPhone

Apple and Google, once close partners, are now going head-to-head over mobiles. Seb Janacek dissects this very special relationship between two of the biggest names in tech.

What a difference a year makes. Less than 12 months ago the relationship between Apple and Google seemed rosy. These days it's more like the War of the Roses.

Back in May 2009 I argued, erroneously it seems now, that Apple and Google would continue to enjoy a "special relationship" despite the Federal Trade Commission applying pressure on Google CEO Eric Schmidt to leave the Apple board. He since has.

One thing I got right was the assertion that the relationship would face sterner tests as Android phones flocked to market. That scenario truly came to bear this week with the launch of Google's Nexus One smartphone.

Back in the spring, Android was a tiny player and Chrome was a browser and not a new operating system. Google was a key partner for Apple for the iPhone's Maps app and remains the default search engine in its Safari browser.

Fast forward eight months and the dynamic between the two companies changed irrevocably within the space of a day.

Advertising battle
Just as Google announced its first handset aimed squarely at its Californian competitor, Apple revealed it was getting into web advertising with the purchase of Quattro Wireless for $275m. The gloves are well and truly off.

The launch of the Google phone has been one of the worst kept secrets in technology. Even before the launch of the Android consortium, there had been talk of a handset offering from the search giant.

As most know, Google's main revenue stream is from advertising, which is why Apple's purchase of Quattro Wireless is so interesting. It represents the Cupertino firm's own march on Google's strongholds and a departure of its own.

According to reports, Apple had previously attempted to purchase AdMob, a Quattro Wireless rival, which was eventually snapped up by Google for a princely $750m.

Advertising on mobile web devices is clearly a huge battleground for a number of additional big players, including Microsoft and Yahoo!. The Apple acquisition is timely as it arrived in the same week the Wall Street Journal announced that sources within Apple had confirmed details of the so-called Tablet Mac. This is likely to be an intentional leak by the famously secretive Apple management - albeit a leak of one of the worst kept secrets in the consumer technology industry.

Apple is reported to have courted print publishers over the surfacing of digital versions of papers and magazines, which traditionally are advertisement-heavy. If the rumours are true and the Tablet will aim to do for print publishers what the iPod did for music - among other things - then there could be considerable revenue streams. All signs now point to the launch of a Tablet device at an Apple-convened event at the end of January.

Nexus One vs the iPhone
As for the Nexus One, could the device prove to be a stern test for the iPhone in the turbulent smartphone market? Initial responses have been mixed, with Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal describing it as "bold" and "fresh" but adding that it and other Android devices "pale beside" some of the iPhone's key functions.

Will the Nexus One give the iPhone a run for its money<br />
" />(Photo credit: Josh Lowensohn/CNET)" />

Will the Nexus One (right) give the iPhone (left) a run for its money?
(Photo credit: Josh Lowensohn/CNET)

Likewise, David Pogue from the New York Times reported: "The Nexus One is an excellent app phone, fast and powerful but marred by some glitches and missing features - a worthy competitor to the Droid, if not the iPhone."

On initial reports I remain unconvinced about the Nexus One's ability to displace the iPhone - although I'll reserve proper judgement until I get my hands on one. The main reason I am sceptical is not that Google tried to make a better phone than the iPhone but that it tried to make a better iPhone than Apple.

The Nexus One is likely to take the market by storm although perhaps not at Apple's expense. The presence of both Apple and Google in the market will spell good news for consumers, particularly those with a geeky bent. The mobile handset marketplace has never been so fresh and full of innovation.

I was reminded recently of the words of former Palm CEO Ed Colligan, speaking ahead of Apple's as-yet unannounced entry into the mobile phone fray.

He is reported as saying: "We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in."

Oops. It's not just the PC guys who have walked through the front door. The web guys have also strolled in the back door and made themselves at home. The key to the next generation of mobile phones was never hardware, it was software and the web. It all seems so simple now.

Meanwhile, after years of partnership for Apple and Google this may be the beginning of a beautiful enmity.

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