Steve Jobs vs. The World

You'd think grown men would have better things to do than squabble like rabid squirrels fighting over a Brazil nut. But when it comes to the future of mobile computing, there is no such thing as fighting dirty. And more and more often, it all starts with Steve Jobs.

God's favorite CEO made a rare appearance at Apple's quarterly confab with financial analysts earlier this week, and he apparently had a lot to get off his faux turtleneck-covered chest about the future of 7-inch tablets (dim) and the value of "open" operating systems (dubious).

[ Also on InfoWorld: Ride the Apple roller coaster with Cringely in "Letter from a CEO: Steve Jobs responds to your email" | "Apple's Steve Jobs: He's no Old Spice Guy" | "The two faces of Steve (Jobs and Ballmer)" | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Here's some of what he had to say about Google Android, per Macworld's transcript of the call:

Google loves to characterize Android as "open," and iOS and iPhone as "closed." We find this a bit disingenuous, and clouding the real difference between our two approaches. The first thing most of us think about when we hear the word "open" is Windows, which is available on a variety of devices. Unlike Windows, however, where most PCs have the same user interface and run the same apps, Android is very fragmented. Many Android OEMs, including the two largest, HTC and Motorola, install proprietary user interfaces to differentiate themselves from the commodity Android experience. The user's left to figure it all out. Compare this with iPhone, where every handset works the same....

You know, even if Google were right, and the real issue is "closed" versus "open," it is worthwhile to remember that open systems don't always win. Take Microsoft's "Plays for Sure" music strategy, which used the PC model -- which Android uses as well -- of separating the software components from the hardware components. Even Microsoft finally abandoned this "open" strategy in favor of copying Apple's integrated approach with their Zune player, unfortunately leaving their OEMs empty-handed in the process.

It didn't take long to get a response. Former Apple engineer turned Google Android chief Andy Rubin responded to Jobs' jibes about "openness" thusly via his first official tweet:

the definition of open: "mkdir android ; cd android ; repo init -u git://android.git.kernel.org/platform/manifest.git ; repo sync ; make"

In case you didn't quite grok that, those are the instructions for downloading the source code for Android -- which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Google, Android, and Rubin. Geek much?

Meanwhile, Facebook engineer Joe Hewitt chimes in via Twitter to say both Jobs and Rubin are full of it:

How does Android get away with the "open" claim when the source isn't public until major releases, and no one outside Google can check in? ...

Compare the Android "open source" model to Firefox or Linux if you want to see how disingenuous that "open" claim is....

Until Android is read/write open, it's no different than iOS to me. Open source means sharing control with the community, not show and tell....

Point I am trying to make is, Rubin bickering with Jobs is a farce, because both refuse to share the one thing that matters: control.

But Jobs didn't restrict his potshots to Google. He also took on every hardware maker hoping to slide into the perceived niche between 4-inch smartphones and the 10-inch Apple iPad. To wit:

One naturally thinks that a seven-inch screen would offer 70 percent of the benefits of a 10-inch screen. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The screen measurements are diagonal, so that a seven-inch screen is only 45 percent as large as iPad's 10-inch screen. You heard me right: just 45 percent as large....

While one could increase the resolution of the display to make up some of the difference, it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size....

Given that all tablet users will already have a smartphone in their pockets, giving up precious display area to fit a tablet in their pockets is clearly the wrong trade-off.

The seven-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone, and too small to compete with an iPad.

RIM's co-CEO Jim Balsillie shot back with an appropriately terse blog post, which read in part:

For those of us who live outside of Apple's distortion field, we know that 7" tablets will actually be a big portion of the market and we know that Adobe Flash support actually matters to customers who want a real web experience. ...We think many customers are getting tired of being told what to think by Apple. ...As usual, whether the subject is antennas, Flash or shipments, there is more to the story and sooner or later, even people inside the distortion field will begin to resent being told half a story.

It appears Jobs manages to wear down everyone's nerves -- no sandpaper required.

Why the unprompted attacks from Jobs? Computerworld Android Power blogger JR Raphael thinks Stevarino is secretly worried about Android's growing market power:

Call me crazy, though, but after hearing your little piece of the call, I sure didn't get the feeling that I was listening to a man who was confident about his company's position. Maybe it's because of the fact that you spent the majority of your time frantically knocking Android -- you know, tossing out unsubstantiated reasons as to why practically every analyst is wrong about its pending mobile dominance. To me, Steve, that comes across as desperate and defensive.

I'll leave the final word to Fake Steve Jobs, who must have done some kind of Vulcan mind meld with Actual Steve because they sound so eerily alike:

Android? Honestly, we just don't see it. Let me repeat that, in a more hypnotic voice: We ... do ... not ... see ... Android ... as ... a ... competitor.

Even if we did see Android out there it would not matter because Android is imploding because of fragmentation which is what happens to all open-source projects. Although, as I said yesterday, Android isn't actually open. So this is really weird because they aren't open and yet they are fragmenting, and I know what you're going to ask, you're going to say, Steve, how is that possible, isn't it a conundrum, or an oxymoron, and I'm going to say, No, it is not.

Android is closed. But it still has fragmentation. Like all open-source products.

And, by the way, open never wins, closed always wins. Just look at the entire history of the tech industry, or, if you're in a hurry, just look at that one time when Microsoft tried to do a lame version of making music play on zillions of random s****y devices and it totally got crushed because our closed model was so much better.

So even if Android was open, which it's not, even then Google would not win, because closed always wins, except when the closed thing is Android, which is, in fact, closed, but still won't beat us because we're more closed than they are and the most closed system always wins. Look at Sun Microsystems versus Linux. Case closed.

Me, I've got no horse in this race. I don't care who wins as long as consumers also win. But this fight sure is fun to watch.

Who you rootin' for? E-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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