Who is doing a better job, Jobs or Schmidt?

Apple and Google are two of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley, but who is doing a better job of positioning their company for the future, Apple's Steve Jobs or Google's Eric Schmidt?

The Experts
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

a longtime advocate of free and open source software and a blogger for Network World’s Open Source Subnet, says the work environment Schmidt nurtures and the broad vision and role Google plays, better position Google for sustainable change. View debate

Yoni Heisler
Yoni Heisler

technology writer and Mac nerd who blogs about Apple for Network World, says Jobs has instilled a vision at Apple that fundamentally changes the computing equation and will lead to continued innovation. View debate

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

Schmidt is fostering a sustainable culture

The big battle of 2011 will undoubtedly be Google vs. Apple as they struggle for dominance in the mobile market. Both companies are doing well, but Eric Schmidt is clearly doing a better job of positioning Google for 2012 and beyond.

Also read: Why any great career move should be known as 'a Schmidt'

Jobs is well-known for being demanding and controlling. These traits serve Apple well in the short term, but in the long term they'll backfire because it doesn't appear Jobs is grooming anyone to take the lead. Schmidt, on the other hand, is by most accounts the kind of manager you want to work for. Schmidt focuses on removing obstacles so Google's employees can do what they were hired to do — create and innovate.

Google's work environment is very conducive to creativity. The famous 20% time that Googlers get to work on projects that aren't part of their regular job is just the tip of the iceberg. Google folks are able to communicate with different product teams and even have the ability to provide new features to products in other groups. While everything that comes out of Google may not be open source, it's clearly a business that has been deeply influenced by open source.

Given the culture of secrecy at Apple, it's hard to picture different product teams being able to pitch in on other products. In fact, it's hard to imagine Apple developers being able to stray at all. Apple is very clearly a top-down culture. This is not the sort of business that attracts the best and brightest, except at the very top. And clearly, there's really only room at the top for one at Apple and failure is not an option.

Google is also doing a better job of wooing developers outside its walls. Google's open source programs, like Summer of Code and Google Code Hosting, promote the larger ecosystem that supports Google. While Google could do better by the FOSS community with Android, there's no question that the company is more open than Apple. Apple's tight velvet fist with iPhone developers has not helped the company.

Google is involved at nearly every level of technology, and then some. From having a hand in DNS, trying to improve the speed of the Web, to creating its own mobile OS. Not to mention having a bit of influence in search as well. 

Apple is more narrowly focused. This isn't a bad thing — but Jobs aims for a modest share of the market while Schmidt is guiding Google to become a commodity in many markets. Apple's strategy is only sustainable as long as it continues its winning streak. Google can afford to fail here and there.

The tech press likes to deride companies for their failures. Take Google Wave, which received heaps of criticism when it launched due to the product's flaws — and then heaps of criticism because Google pulled the plug in a speedy fashion. This is also known as "damned if you do, damned if you don't."

But failure is a byproduct of innovation. Yes, Google may not win big with every effort, but it doesn't need to. Apple, on the other hand, tends to bet big on each new product. The company has had a string of successes, but how long can it count on churning out wins like the iPod, iPhone and iPad?

My guess is Apple's win streak is going to be about as long as Jobs' tenure.

Ultimately, Apple has to face a future without Jobs — and it doesn't seem prepared. If Schmidt were to leave Google suddenly, it would probably make for a bumpy quarter, but few would wonder if the company was in trouble. Take a look at Apple's stock prices while Jobs' health issues kept him away from Apple — the market does not have confidence in an Apple without Steve Jobs.

This doesn't mean that Apple is doomed, or that Google needs to drive the company out of the marketplace. So long as Jobs is at the helm, and perhaps afterward, Apple has a bright future. But Schmidt is doing a much better job of preparing Google for the long haul. Jobs' contribution to Apple is almost impossible to overstate, and it's difficult to imagine Apple without Jobs at the helm. Schmidt's most valuable contribution to Google may be that it is possible to imagine a successful Google without him.

Brockmeier, a longtime advocate of free and open source software, is a freelance writer and editor, a blogger for Network World's Open Source Subnet, and was formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell. You can reach him at jzb@zonker.net and follow him on Twitter as @jzb.

Yoni Heisler

Jobs is the man

Since returning in 1997, Steve Jobs has transformed Apple into one of the most profitable and innovative companies in the world. With a product line that merges best in class software with sleek hardware, Apple's products not only push the technological envelope but also affect the way we use and think about technology in a fundamental way.

Also see Steve Jobs' business card from 1979

The past 10 years have seen Apple rise to unprecedented heights. With more than $50 billion in cash on hand, and a lineup of successful, profitable, and trend-setting products, Apple has never been healthier and its future has never been more promising.

But emulating Apple's success is no small thing, and looking out over the next 10 years, it is clear Jobs has better positioned Apple to succeed than Eric Schmidt has positioned Google.

First, Apple has a proven track record of innovation and an impressive ability to deliver products that resonate with and excite consumers. Not only that, but Apple's products often drive the narrative in technology and set the standard by which all other products are measured.

Apple understands that technology is less about geeky technical specifications and more about how people interact with a product. Because Apple controls both the hardware and the software, it can deliver a seamless and intuitive user experience that competitors simply can't match.  

This strategy of vertical integration uniquely positions Apple to leverage its technological and market strengths to fuel growth and innovation in other areas. Over the next 10 years, Apple can tap into a deep reservoir of software and hardware expertise to innovate in ways that a company like Google simply cannot.

Second, Apple focuses on a doing a few things really well and doesn't get distracted with passing fads in technology. As a result, Apple can throw the full weight of its resources behind new products, ensuring a best in class user experience in the process. In contrast, Google seemingly wants to become a major player in an inordinate number of areas, a strategy that often results in mediocrity and acquisitions that sometimes defy explanation.

Importantly, the principles underlying Apple's success emanate from the top down and are so entrenched in the company culture that Apple is positioned to succeed no matter what shakeups might occur in management.

Though Apple critics might think otherwise, Apple is a lot bigger than Jobs. With approximately 46,000 full-time employees, Apple is a company teeming with bright executives and world class engineers. More importantly, the folks inside Apple have all bought into the Apple philosophy that controlling both the software and hardware is key to delivering a first-class user experience.

Apple, in short, is greater than the sum of its parts and is much larger than any one person. When Jobs took a leave of absence in 2009, for example, and put COO Tim Cook in charge of running the day-to-day operations, the company didn't miss a beat and delivered record breaking earnings with ease. Jobs not only resurrected Apple to prominence, but laid the foundation for success for years to come.

Another factor not to be overlooked is Apple's healthy financial position. With more than $50 billion in cash, Apple can easily make surgical and tactical acquisitions when opportunities arise. While some companies acquire numerous start-ups in the hope that something will stick, Apple's acquisitions are strategic and purposeful.

One example is Apple's 2005 acquisition of Fingerworks, whose multitouch technology would eventually end up in the iPhone. While Google has a habit of purchasing exciting new start-ups and letting them wither away, Apple's history of acquisitions underscores the company's commitment to real innovation and its laser like focus of putting exciting products in the hands of consumers.

There's no telling where technology will take us in 10 years time, but Apple is uniquely positioned to flourish over the next decade and capitalize on shifts in the technological landscape in a way that Google can't.

In the mobile space, Apple has an installed base of over 125 million iOS users and a mobile app store that remains the envy of the entire smartphone industry. Meanwhile, the iPhone continues to gobble up smartphone marketshare while Mac sales continue to accelerate. Factor in the ubiquity of iTunes along with the meteoric rise of the iPad and it's hard to find a weakness of any kind in Apple's armor.

Moreover, Apple's popular line of retail stores ensures that any new product Apple comes up with will be visible in ways that most other companies can only dream of. Furthermore, the room for growth across Apple's entire product line is substantial. The Mac still occupies a relatively paltry share of the broader PC market while worldwide iPhone growth is still in its relative infancy.

But at its core, Apple's success is the result of a clear vision from Apple's leadership coupled with the technical expertise to deliver products that consistently redefine the very notion of how we use technology.

Heisler is a technology writer and Mac nerd who has been using Apple products for well over 18 years. He actively covers a wide variety of Apple topics, from legal news and rumors to current events and even Apple related comedy and history. You can reach him at iOnApple1@gmail.com.

Want more Tech Debates? Check out our archive page

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Related:

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in