Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt spoke with All Things Digital journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher yesterday, reflecting upon numerous topics including Apple, Google and where technology is headed in the future. One notable thing that Schmidt said is that Apple should not have left Google Maps, adding that Apple made that decision a long time ago and is only now realizing that creating maps is difficult. Schmidt concludes that Google Maps are simply better. Other interesting excerpts from the interview have been gathered below and after the break.
“Gang of Four”
Mossberg: Two years ago we talked to you and you brought up this “Gang of Four” idea. The most influential tech companies. Please expand on that, and update that.
Schmidt: Something unusual has happened. All four companies are networks/platforms generating enormous scale effects. We’ve never had that before: Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google. All different, all competitors, all making enormous investments.
Swisher: You left out Microsoft.
Swisher: Still four? What about with Facebook’s troubles?
Schmidt: A billion users is still a really big deal. You can do a lot with that.
Schmidt: “Apple should have kept our maps.”
Mossberg: But Apple says you didn’t give them all the features they wanted.
Schmidt: “Apple decided a long time ago to do their own maps … [now they've] discovered that maps are really hard.”
Swisher: What argument could you make to Apple to keep your maps?
Schmidt: They’re better maps.
Mossberg: Are you going to make your own iOS map?
Schmidt: Don’t want to pre-announce products, but if we made one, they would have to approve it. … They haven’t approved all of our apps in the past. (Schmidt allows that the two companies are always in communication.)
Android vs. Apple
Schmidt: The Android-Apple platform fight is the defining contest. Here’s why: Apple has thousands of developers building for it. Google’s platform, Android, is even larger. Four times more Android phones than Apple phones. 500 million phones already in use. Doing 1.3 million activations a day. We’ll be at 1 billion mobile devices in a year.
Schmidt: We’ve not seen network platform fights at this scale. The beneficiary is you all, the customer, globally. “This is wonderful.”
Patent Wars, Apple vs. Samsung
Mossberg: The FTC and others are looking at you. Today there’s a story that says they’re now looking at “standards-essential patents,” which if I understand correctly are patents that are so basic that they’re supposed to be licensed to everyone, and the allegation is that Motorola has not been doing that.
Schmidt: I can’t talk about it because I don’t know the details and “because it actually just gets me too upset.” Patent wars are a disaster for all of us. Everyone can find prior art for everything. So the new trick is to get judges to block devices country by country. It’s bad for innovation, it’s bad for choices.
Schmidt: We are now spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fight these fights against patent trolls, and we’re winning.
Swisher: You’re buying patents, too.
Mossberg: Why did the jury find for Apple?
Schmidt: I don’t know enough about it. I know that Samsung is very upset. … It’s better if I don’t comment on the jury’s decision.
Schmidt: The victims here are not Google and Apple. It’s the little companies that can’t acquire patents to protect themselves.
Swisher: You said it annoys you?
Schmidt: I was trying to use a non-binding phrase.
Mossberg: In a few weeks we’ll see something historic. Microsoft will have built its first computer, with Surface. Running a Microsoft OS. That’s a huge change for them, because they were always licensing operating systems to other people. What does this mean?
Schmidt: “It means a lot if the product works.”
Mossberg: Let’s say it does.
Schmidt: “My answer stands.” Microsoft built a structural monopoly around Windows. “Produced enormous value, and a series of antitrust cases, which they lost.” So is that the right model to solve problems? I would argue that we’ve evolved to a new model, like with Android. “We’re going to see an explosion of integrated hardware/software solutions.”
Mossberg: Can some other company make a truly integrated device that’s comparable to what Apple does and Microsoft is trying to do?
Schmidt: Google is doing that with Chromebooks.
Mossberg: Yeah, but they’re made by someone else. Now you own a hardware company, Motorola. So when will we see a “pure” Google phone that they made?
(Schmidt argues that it’s already happening because Motorola is a subsidiary and is working on phones, etc. A non-answer.)
Swisher: We talked to Samsung when you were buying Motorola, and they were not happy.
Schmidt: We’re not going to give Motorola an advantage of over Samsung.
Mossberg: Why would you do that?
Schmidt: Because we want lots of partners.
Mossberg: So are you saying you can’t both license software and make your own products?
Schmidt: No, that’s what we’re doing.
Future of Technology
Swisher: You guys have vast ambitions. I think about you like the Borg. What is the end game? In the beginning you wanted to collect all the world’s information.
Schmidt: We want to be in the center of the information revolution. “The world doesn’t need more copycat products; it needs innovative products.”
Apple has the cash, people and scale to do what Google is trying to do. Not sure about Facebook and Amazon.
(Some jokes about Google Glass.)
Swisher: What are you doing with self-driving cars?
Schmidt: Why don’t we celebrate innovation? “Don’t you want a car that drives you?”
Swisher: I’m not sure I want a Google car. … Still, what’s the goal here?
Schmidt: Let’s talk about cars. “It’s really an error that we’re allowed to drive the car.” A computer can obviously do this better “once we get a few bugs ironed out.” There are 30,000 people killed on American highways. It’s a terrible tragedy. If there’s some way we can help, that’s a good thing. Most likely scenario is that the car manufacturers end up using some of the technology, and we’re in talks with them. Same thing with Google Glass — we don’t know what it will be like for other people to be able to use this technology, but we’ll find out.