Turf war heats up as Google accuses Apple of forgetting its roots and stifling innovation

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The Independent Online

Apple announced its arrival to smash the established order in 1984 with an iconic advert using imagery from the George Orwell masterpiece. Last week, the same images were turned against it by Google, a rival increasingly moving in on Apple's turf and one which has framed the war as one of ideology.

The two companies have traditionally had strong links – Google's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, even sat on Apple's board for three years. Yet Mr Schmidt resigned from that post last August as the two companies found their businesses competing, and relations have suffered since then.

Google hammered home the point at its I/O (input-output) developers' conference in San Francisco last week.

Dan Cryan, head of broadband at research company Screen Digest, said: "Unquestionably, this is the war in the industry at the moment. It is a war of two different approaches. One side believes that controlling the entire environment produces better consumer experiences. The other believes an open environment is the way."

Vic Gundotra, vice-president of engineering for Google, presented the I/O conference's keynote speech on Thursday , introducing updates to the company's Android operating system and a ground-breaking move into television, with Google TV. He also used the speech to underline the ideological difference with Apple, with a series of jibes against Google's rival.

The presentation opened with an anecdote about Andy Rubin, who founded Android and sold it to Google.

"He said it was critically important to provide a free mobile operating system, an open-source operating system, that would enable innovations at every level of the stack," Mr Gundotra started.

"He argued that if Google did not act, we faced a Draconian future, a future where one man, one company, one device, one carrier would be our only choice."

Viewers were left in little doubt about the identity of that company. As the audience of developers whooped and hollered, a slide with "1984" was posted. "This is not the future we want," Mr Gundotra said.

Twenty-six years ago now, Apple, released an advert directed by Ridley Scott, to introduce the Apple Macintosh. It showed an authoritarian society being smashed apart by a young upstart, with the voice over adding: "You'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984". Google now suggests the industry has come full circle.

Ray Valdes, analyst at Gartner, said: "The implication is that Apple has transmogrified into its opposite."

Mr Gundotra joked after Thursday's presentation that if Apple's Steve Jobs had seen the presentation, which was live-streamed on YouTube, "We'll hear from him".

The presentation marked a much more aggressive stance by the search- engine giant. "I am no fan of Apple's policies and the recent shift by Apple to a control-oriented management style," Mr Valdes said, but added that: "The in-your-face overtone seems un-Google-like. Perhaps it's an indicator that Google has become more like a traditional company, adopting the aggressive style of Microsoft in its heyday."

Apple believes in a controlled environment that allows the company to vet developments and applications so that they don't cause its devices to crash. Google believes in producing the tools and encouraging developers to take the systems on to foster innovation.

"We're focused on having not just the fastest browser, but also the most comprehensive browser. Part of being open means that you're inclusive and open to innovation," Mr Gundotra said.

Another gibe aimed at Apple was about the group's embracing of Flash technology. Apple has had a very public spat with Adobe over Flash, which runs much of the video footage on internet sites. Mr Jobs recently wrote an open letter to Adobe criticising the company itself for being a closed platform. He said: "The mobile era is about low-power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short." Google, on Thursday, openly embraced Adobe.

Google's increasingly aggressive stance has been brought on, analysts said, as it moves to assert itself on Apple's territory. Google insiders say the two visions have always been different but there was little product overlap until the release of Android.

Google's move into mobiles, with the development of the Android open platform, is about "positioning itself for mobiles," says Mr Cryan of Screen Digest. Google does not, as yet, make a huge amount from phones, as the revenue streams are purely from advertising, with nothing coming from sales of the handsets. It is banking on the mobile advertising market to soar.

Android, which is found on over 60 devices, is finding its influence growing, and it overtook iPhone sales in the US during the first quarter, according to recent data.

Google upped the rivalry with the development of its Chrome web browser against Apple's Safari and, as of last week, has moved on to competing TV products as well. Mr Gundotra at the I/O conference referred to Google TV in the same terms of closed versus open systems, and said questions on the rivalry with Apple TV were "eerily similar to the questions we heard about Android". Google TV offers access to television combined with open access to the web. Apple TV offers an iTunes-style model for the television. Mr Cryan said: "They are directly competing much more than they ever were." Google has even moved into music, with the recent acquisition of Simplify Media.

The ideological question is divisive, and at a discussion panel on that topic at Google's conference Dave McClure, head of the seed-stage investment programme at the Founders Fund, made the comment that "Open is for losers" – prompting heated argument from fellow panellists, who pointed to Google and the internet itself as successful examples of open innovation.

According to the VentureBeat news website, Mr McClure said it was important to start with open standards before pursuing proprietary technology, so as to motivate people with "cool products and cool ideas".

It is an argument that is only going to intensify in the coming months, along with the rivalry between Google and Apple.

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