Larry Page Interview With Fortune Gives Little Insight into Relationship with Apple

BY Tris Hussey

Published 11 Dec 2012

First Tim Cook sat down with Businessweek, and now Larry Page has sat down for an interview with Fortune. As a teaser to a much longer article that will come later in Fortune magazine, Fortune published some of the 70 minute interview between Larry Page and Miguel Helft. The interview posted is interesting, but not nearly as interesting as Tim Cook’s discussion with Businessweek.

We live in an (tech) era where several large companies are vying for our dollars and attention. If Google and Apple are the major players, and Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo!, and Samsung all having their own roles to play, it makes sense that we’d want to hear from the leaders of the two big companies.

In the Fortune interview, Larry does, as expected, talk about Apple, but before we get into his comments on Apple, here is how he views competition:

Because you don’t think about competition?
Obviously we think about competition to some extent. But I feel my job is mostly getting people not to think about our competition. In general I think there’s a tendency for people to think about the things that exist. Our job is to think of the thing you haven’t thought of yet that you really need. And by definition, if our competitors knew that thing, they wouldn’t tell it to us or anybody else. I think just our strengths, our weaknesses, our opportunities are different than any other company.

So, let’s consider that the baseline for how Larry Page would view Apple (and other competitors), they can’t work by looking at others and copying, they have to think of new things and new ways of doing things we do already that could be better. Now on to Apple.

I’ve pulled the directly Apple-related questions and comments below and will comment below:

I don’t know if this is unique at this time in this industry, but there are companies that are clearly competing with each other [Google, Apple (AAPL) and Amazon], with completely different business models.
I actually view that as a shame when you think about it that way. All the big technology companies are big because they did something great. I’d like to see more cooperation on the user side. The Internet was made in universities and it was designed to interoperate. And as we’ve commercialized it, we’ve added more of an island-like approach to it, which I think is a somewhat a shame for users.

So in light of that, Apple’s still a partner. It’s a competitor. You and Steve Jobs were friendly.
At times.

At times. You said that whole thing about Android and them being angry about it, that it was for show.
I didn’t say that entirely. I said partly.

[Apple did it] partly for show, to get the troops to rally.
By the way, that’s something I try not to do. I don’t like to rally my company in that way because I think that if you’re looking at somebody else, you’re looking at what they do now, and that’s not how again you stay two or three steps ahead.

So Apple obviously is a huge distribution partner for some of your services. How is the relationship?
What I was trying to say was I think it would be nice if everybody would get along better and the users didn’t suffer as a result of other people’s activities. I try to model that. We try pretty hard to make our products be available as widely as we can. That’s our philosophy. I think sometimes we’re allowed to do that. Sometimes we’re not.

So do you have an ongoing conversation with Apple about these kinds of issues and trying to resolve them?
I mean, obviously we talk to Apple. We have a big search relationship with Apple, and so on, and we talk to them and so on.

We could spent hours reading between the lines here, but my sense is that the relationship between Google and Apple is more than a little tense. I think the switch from Maps and pulling the YouTube app were real slaps in the face for Google. Probably worse was that Maps hasn’t been a great replacement for Google Maps. Heck, if Apple Maps was just a better app than Google offered, that would be one thing. That’s “yeah, they found a way to do it better…” situation, but that didn’t happen. Apple replaced a great thing with a mediocre thing.

Android is an interesting part of the discussion. Part saying “we know it was bluster”, but also seeing the real fight in those words. Apple hasn’t gone after Google in the courts over Android, per se, so the scorched earth battle isn’t going to the Android capital city just yet (just allies). However Google, I think, does believe that Android and iOS are opposing forces in the mobile OS world:

How will you decide when to do a Motorola Nexus device, and what do you tell Samsung and LG?
I think there’s a lot of complexity in that question. Maybe I’ll talk more generally about that area. The right way to think about it is how do we get amazing products into users’ hands in the most cost-effective, highest quality way possible and to the most people. That’s what we do as a business, and that’s what we’ve done with Android.

Maybe the complete article will have more depth than this preview, because I read this as a very superficial chat as compared to Tim Cook’s interview with Businessweek. Right now, there isn’t anything we know now that we didn’t already know, or couldn’t have just surmised ourselves.