By Jordan Crook
Smartphones are the single-fastest-growing consumer electronics segment in the world, and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) are the most formidable players in the arena, especially in terms of software. iOS and Android together hold a vast majority of the global market, and both Apple and Google have their own hardware ventures (the iPhone/iPad and the Nexus tablet/smartphone family).
But once we move past the battle for mobile souls, there is little else that these two giants have in common. In fact, even a layman could list the differences between Apple and Google all day long. But rarely does the CEO of Google.
Yes, Larry Page shared a few new interesting factoids on Tuesday's earnings call that elucidated his perspective on the rivalry.
Page started by mentioning that Google's "long-term investment in Maps has paid off." The app was downloaded over 10 million times in 48 hours, with partial credit for the spike going to Apple's less-than-accurate Maps product.
Google has spent over a decade laboriously perfecting its mapping product, with the help of street view cars and sheer user volume. Apple, on the other hand, clearly hasn't been working on the product for more than five years, though the exact R&D time isn't clear.
Regardless of who succeeds and who fails at mapping the entire universe, these companies are approaching the project very differently. Google is looking to monetize its Maps product directly. Page explained on the call that Google Maps already generates a significant amount of revenue via search.
"The number of search queries that we receive that are geographically related is very high, and we generate quite a bit of money from our web search business," Page said. "But we're in the early stages of monetizing Maps directly in the Maps product."
If Apple has any plan to monetize Maps, we don't know about it, and it wouldn't make sense with Apple's software trajectory. Apple Maps is more of a responsive product offering than a long-term revenue generator - Apple didn't like Google pulling in data through iHardware, and that was reason enough to launch a premature Maps product.
But it's not just Google's Maps app getting iOS users excited. Page boasted on the call that six Google apps were featured in Apple's Best of 2012, such as Gmail, YouTube, and Maps.
Apple only had one of its own apps on the list, iPhoto.
Sure Google iOS apps have more downloads, but Google has more apps in general. "Google's biggest challenge is focus," said the Google CEO, highlighting another way the company differentiates itself from Apple. With hundreds of different products and operations, seemingly launched and discontinued willy nilly, this comment isn't news to anyone.
Google has brought this "challenge" upon itself, fostering this type of imaginative wandering and creativity in its employees, with its 20 percent time. If you ask employees to spend one-fifth of their time on a special project they're interested in, it's inevitable that some will lose focus.
Apple, in stark contrast, creates very few products each year. The company doesn't immediately discontinue a service or product just because they launched it as a beta, and it isn't doing well. Apple stuff is only discontinued when something better has come along to replace it.
Though there are noticeably fewer product failures to come out of Apple, Google employees seem much happier. Google was at the top of Forbes' Best Place To Work list this year, up from the fourth-place spot last year. Apple wasn't on that list.
Larry Page emphasized on the investor call that he wants every employee at Google to feel like "part of a big family," and that's been clear with the way that People Operations (Google's internal term for HR) monitors employees' happiness levels obsessively.
Steve Jobs may have wanted Apple to feel like a family, but his management tactics aren't what many would call nurturing. Because he keeps his cards close to his chest, Tim Cook's management style is less clear.
What is clear, is that Apple and Google are like night and day in Larry Page's eyes.
Apple makes money on hardware, a game that Google is relatively new to. Google, on the other hand, makes its money off of search and ads. Google powers its way to market with spurts of tons of new products as opposed to very focused, almost repressed product launches from Apple. Apple pressures its employees to perfect their work, while Google encourages and nurtures employees to create whatever tickles their fancy. And while Apple is busy reacting to anything that might threaten its complete control over the ecosystem, Google is focusing on long-term revenue streams from its core products, while opening up the code to the world.
Their fighting styles are very different. But like it or not, these two will be duking it out on mobile for years to come. And it's these differences that make it such a riveting fight to watch.