Chris Taylor -Apr 6, 2012
Jobs was out to kill Android.
Steve Jobs passed into legend a little more than six months ago. Now it seems the arguments over his intentions for Apple are just getting started.
In the Jobs-approved biography by Walter Isaacson, the Apple founder is seen railing against Android toward the end of his life. Insisting that Google stole its look and feel from the iPhone's iOS, Jobs vowed to declare "thermonuclear war" on Android. That's quite an image.
Recently, Google CEO Larry Page has tried to play down that comment. In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, released Wednesday, Page said he thought Jobs's attacks were "for show," adding that "it's useful for them to feel like they have an obvious competitor and to rally around that."
Isaacson has fired back. In a Q&A session following his lecture at the historic Royal Institute in London, the biographer and former TIME editor insists that Jobs's genuine passion on this topic was not to be underestimated.
"Our lawsuit is saying, 'Google, you f___ing ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off.' Grand theft," Jobs told Isaacson in the book. "Make no mistake. They want to kill the iPhone. We won't let them."
He would not be swayed, not even by settlements. "It wasn't a matter of money," Isaacson explained. "He said: 'You can't pay me off, I'm here to destroy you.'"
What Page was actually trying to focus on in the Bloomberg interview was the fact that Jobs spent so much time with him toward the end, mentoring the young founder and CEO.
How, therefore, could their companies be anything but the best of friends?
Enter the Gates
But Page clearly hasn't read the parts of the biography pertaining to another Jobs rival: Bill Gates.
The Microsoft founder could also be smiling and shaking Jobs's hand one minute, and be the target of his fury over Windows "theft" the next.
That was part of Jobs' genius, and also his weakness. He could be best friends with his worst enemies. (See also: Sculley, John.)
I'm not saying that Jobs railed at Page about Android in person the way he fumed about Windows. He was older, and wiser, and was clearly fond of the younger man, a prodigal genius with a killer product.
But Jobs's fondness for Gates stayed as solid as his lifelong hatred of Windows. Clearly, he was capable of mentoring Page and plotting corporate strategy to destroy Android at the same time.
What's the Beef?
Did Jobs have anything like a point?
Yes, from his perspective. Not at all, from Page's.
Jobs was firm in his belief that Eric Schmidt - then Google CEO - had sat through Apple's board presentations on the development of the iPhone, and been inspired to create a competitor. More than inspired, Jobs said.
Android was launched a year after the first iPhone. Schmidt left the Apple board a year after that, citing conflicts of interest between the companies. Jobs never stopped being furious with him.
To Googlers, the anger seems odd. After all, the search giant acquired Android, the company, in 2005, two years before the iPhone launch. At the time, it was known that both Google and Apple had strong interests in the mobile space.
But Jobs won that race with the iPhone, by a year. He basked in glory as the world went wild for it.
And then he saw suspiciously similar handsets with suspiciously similar operating systems, all of which were driven by a company run by a guy sitting on his board. Who knew a lot about the design of the product early in its life.
Even the most placid of CEOs might go thermonuclear in those circumstances. And Jobs - well, once he started a vendetta, the biography makes clear, it took a lot to make him stop.
He buried the hatchet with Windows, at least in a business sense, a mere 12 years after that feud started. But that was 1997, he had just returned to Apple, and the company was on life support.
Going by that reckoning, the earliest Page could have expected Jobs to quit his "thermonuclear war" on Android would be sometime in 2020.
What would that war have meant, in practice? A bunch more lawsuits, possibly. Ever more aggressive acquisitions and patents, very likely. Jobs focusing his genius design mind on making sure each iPhone iteration blew every Android handset out of the water, most definitely.
It would never have been for show. Never just to rally the troops. Given his obsession, Jobs's strong distaste for the design of Android would have been the supercharged energy cell inside him. Had he lived, it never would have died.
Perhaps - depending on how Tim Cook steers the good ship Apple - it hasn't.
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