In his new book – Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution, Fred Vogelstein describes how Steve Jobs was oblivious to the danger Google’s Android poses to the iPhone in the beginning.
The way Jobs was handling Google should have made everyone at Apple feel better about the tension between the two companies. Instead, it made many of them feel worse. A handful of executives and engineers had been warning Jobs about Google’s ambitions with Android for two years, and they still believed Jobs was underestimating Google’s resolve. Why had the great Steve Jobs allowed himself to be duped by Google in the first place, and why did it then take him another eighteen months—until early 2010—to respond publicly? One of them put it to me like this: “I kept telling him, ‘Steve, we should be paying more attention to those guys. They’re hiring like crazy and I know all the guys they are hiring.’ But Steve was like, ‘I’m going to have my walk [with Larry or Sergey or Eric] and I’ll get to the bottom of this.’ Then he’d have his meetings with them and come back and say they told him not to worry. ‘It’s not really serious. It was an interesting idea, but it’s not going anywhere,’ they’d tell him. Even when Android shipped in 2008, they told him, ‘Well, it’s not really stable. It’s not great. We don’t know if we are going to continue it.’ And I was just like, ‘I don’t believe this is happening.’”
Another recalled his and his colleagues’ panic in 2007 when Google’s Schmidt and the rest of the Apple board got iPhones to carry around months before they went on sale: “You have to know that there were a lot of people at Apple working on the iPhone going, ‘What the f**k? They are handing our phone to a guy in charge of a company that we’re competing with. They’ll take the phone, tear it apart, and steal all our ideas.’”
Some at Apple have speculated that Jobs’s blindness could simply have been because of what he considered his great friendship with Brin and Page. It is human nature to believe we are good judges of character. Successful founders and CEOs such as Jobs think they are particularly good at it. Being able to find and hire the most talented, reliable, and trustworthy people is, after all, a critical part of building and running a successful company. But others also wonder if Jobs’s cancer had started to become a factor by then too. By the middle of 2008 Jobs was obviously not well. Most of the time his voice was strong and his energy was good—but he looked emaciated, as if he had lost fifty pounds in six months. At times he was also obviously in pain. “I’d see him double over in meetings. I’d see him get in a corner and just sit there with his knees pressed against his chest. We’re all in the executive boardroom. It was terrifying to watch,” an executive said.
Another Jobs confidant thinks Jobs was simply blinded by overconfidence. “I just don’t know that anybody really focused on the fact that there was going to be a full-fledged licensed operating system that they [Google] were going to provide to manufacturers. There were a lot of rumors about a phone and about how they were going to do a phone OS; but I don’t think Apple gave two shits about that because I think they felt that they were so good and so far ahead of everyone else that it didn’t matter. So if they [Google] were going to do a Nokia-like OS or something like that, nobody was going to worry. [Even in 2008] I don’t think anybody focused on that fact—that this was going to be a knock-down, drag-out Apple competitor.”
This person initially rejected Jobs’s health as being part of the problem. Upon further questioning, however, he reconsidered and said, “Look, I think you’re right. Would he have been more combative during that period [if he hadn’t been sick]? Probably, yes.”
This is an excerpt from Fred Vogelstein’s book – Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution. Thanks to Fred Vogelstein for granting us the permission to publish this excerpt.