updated 07:30 am EDT, Fri October 21, 2011
Believed Google guilty of 'grand theft'
As reviews and excerpts of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs begin to spill out, one area that will receive a lot of attention is the Apple co-founder's uncensored animosity towards Google for the "wholesale" theft of Apple's ideas and patents in creating Android, the rival operating system for mobile devices that started off life being nothing like the Apple vision and rapidly pivoted after the iPhone appeared. Jobs vowed he would "destroy" Android, "because it's a stolen product."
"I will spend my last dying breath if I need to," Jobs told his biographer, "and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong." Isaacson writes that Jobs had tried to convince Google not to develop its own mobile operating system, offering prime real estate on the iPhone as well as early access, but was unsuccessful.
The author added that Jobs would get unusually blunt and angry when discussing the ongoing lawsuits, which so far have been directed against Google only by proxy, through handset manufacturers such as HTC and Samsung, though in the case of the latter company Apple also has hardware design grievances distinct from any issues with Android. So far, Apple has been more successful in the legal fights, though additional lawsuits and judgements are still continuing.
Google's own press materials (an example is seen below) tend to support Jobs' view. Prior to the iPhone, early versions of Android looked like a cross between the then-standard OS used on the iPod and the Blackberry OS, both of which were market leaders in 2007. Shortly after the iPhone came out, the design of the OS radically changed to reflect the new paradigms that Apple had established. A similar transformation took place in the pre-existing tablet computer space before and after the iPad. The copying ultimately resulted in Google CEO Eric Schmidt being pushed off the board at Apple over conflicts of interest.
There is also the matter of Google's own e-mail communications that clearly establish the company was aware that Android may be violating some patents regarding Java, currently owned by Oracle. The database giant has sued Google over the licensing issues in a high-stakes case that could cost Google billions if it loses. Even worse, a finding that Google willfully infringed on Oracle's patents would strongly bolster Jobs' claim that the modern Android OS is largely a mediocre imitation of patented Apple ideas.
Android has already proven to be more costly than Google originally envisaged. Despite being a free and "open" operating system, both Google and its partners have paid out millions to either avoid lawsuits from companies like Microsoft that claim the software infringes, or to fight lawsuits such as Oracle's. Customers are also unhappy with poor-quality apps, malware and security threats and the carrier- and advertising-centric nature of Android that sees many devices sold, but quickly become obsolete when either the carrier or Google itself no longer support it with OS updates. Developers have also complained of a large revenue gap between incomes from iOS and Android.
Jobs had a low opinion of both Android and other Google efforts, telling Isaacson that apart from search (and, apparently, maps), most of Google's products -- specifically naming Google Docs -- were poor. He said the company was guilty of "grand theft" in appropriating the look and feel of iOS into Android. Jobs defended criticism of Apple's much more tight control of iOS apps and development compared to Android's looser, semi-open approach by saying that Apple's philosophy was born out of "a desire to make great products, not crap."
"Our lawsuit is saying [Google] ... ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off," said Jobs, referring to the HTC lawsuit that has been widely seen as a proxy fight with Google. "I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this." In a subsequent and well-publicized meeting with Schmidt at a Palo Alto cafe, Jobs told Schmidt that he had no interest in settling the lawsuit, Isaacson writes. "I don't want your money," Jobs told Schmidt, "... I've got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that's all I want."
According to the book, which is officially released on Monday, "the meeting resolved nothing."