Larry Page and Steve Jobs: advice given, lessons learned

by: Nate SwannerJune 4, 2013

Larry Page

At the time Steve Jobs was nearing the end of his long bout with cancer, an important shift in Google management was afoot. Eric Schmidt had been running the show, while Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided what direction they wanted to pursue within Google, and his tenure at the top was just about done. Larry was set to take over the day-to-day operation, and Sergey decided to play in his laboratory, creating all kinds of forward-thinking products and services.

Page, understanding that Jobs was ill (and not going to recover), made a pilgrimage. Steve Jobs was the single greatest mastermind the tech world has known; a technology Jesus of sorts, both building Apple from scratch, and later resurrecting it. He was himself once a young man, in charge of a very large technology company. If anyone could provide proper insight to a young Page as he became the leader of the free tech world, it was Jobs.

steve jobs

The advice

“Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up”. Succinct, salient, and sound advice. This was Jobs in his final months. He fondly recalls his gut reaction to Page asking for a meeting was to say “F you”, but his cooler head later prevailed. Remembering that HP co-founder Bill Hewlett once guided him, Jobs thought it best to pay it forward.

We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business.

Jobs clearly saw promise in the future, if not Page. Under Schmidt, Google had been seen as direct rival to Apple. “We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake, they want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them.” was Jobs’ line from a 2010 town hall meeting. Schmidt, who had been a mainstay on the Apple board of trustees, was squeezed out over increasingly competitive practises at Google. Android and Chrome were considered to be in direct competition with Apple products, and Jobs was not fond of someone he considered the enemy, sitting on his board.


Jobs, for all his thermonuclear talk, was benevolent in his twilight. After the initial chat, Jobs approached Page for a follow-up commentary. He cautioned Larry about the quality and number of Google products. “They’re turning you into Microsoft”, Jobs quipped.

Fiercely proud of his Apple products and brand, Jobs was giving Page the only advice he knew to deliver. Perhaps Jobs was urging Page to take the reigns of Apple’s momentum, and ride it into the next frontier. What can be taken from the commentary is that Jobs so wanted Google to emulate Apple in some respect. He wanted young Larry to be more like Steve Jobs.

Apple Logo iPad 2 1600

The Apple way

Apple has made some fantastic products over the course of their timeline. They’ve also innovated some stellar services, and pioneered one of the most crucial shifts ever in the music industry’s move to digital. Would Google be wise to follow that path?

The company Jobs bled for is fabulous at delivering his vision of technology. It is not, however, good for us. Variety is important, and Apple is a little too vanilla in that regard. A variety of colors is not terribly important to mobile tech fans, but a choice in functionality is.

Larry Page had no intention of turning Google into Apple, but he listened to the message Jobs gave.

Apple services work fabulously. They are simple, straightforward, and fairly intuitive. From desktop to mobile, Apple does it right. They also settle into a niche once they expand a sector of the market. After taking a notable share of the mobile market is 2008, The tandem of Android and iOS have effectively wilted the competition since. In 2009, iOS boasted roughly ten times the sales of Android devices.

Since that time, Android has grown rapidly, and continues to do so. Apple’s iOS platform has not enjoyed such a rise, and has since settled into a niche. The same effect had been seen years before in the PC market: Apple expansion, then Microsoft dominance. Beautifully crafted products, which move slowly for an increasingly rapid moving technology landscape. The Apple way is not the only way, and Page knew that.

  • John Chavez

    I believe that, deep deep down, Steve believed in a world where Apple and Google could be allies and push frontiers together. Apple from the Hardware and OS realm and Google from the web services realm. I too loved it when they played together. The release of the original iPhone was a testament to that vision with Apple working closely with Google. I think that even though Google decided to become more independent and control both sides of the business, Steve realized their importance to the tech world and all the benefits of having a mature and well guided Google….even if its competing directly against his company.

    • King7Dom

      I think Steve realise Apple is at its best when they have something to compete against. Apple needed to compete with Microsoft in order to have that drive to innovate better than them. Hence the Macbook lineup and push towards a mobile future.

      As with Google, Steve left Apple in capable hands, but as he commented before how he realise HP as not left in better hands. He needed to create a better adversary for Apple than Microsoft in order for Apple to continue to succeed in the mobile space.

      I really wish Apple can work closer with Google, because they have to realise that Google provide services, they don’t earn money from Samsung selling devices. Android was only an initiative for an open source mobile OS, not a signal to enter the phone business. Other than the Nexus line, Google does not have a phone business. Pixel was a push for a ‘retina’ and touch optimised web, not to compete with the Macbook. It’s hard for them to go to I/O and give everyone a Macbook retina or an iPad to take home, much easier to do so with their own devices.

  • D’Ander McSullivan

    Great article!

  • José Olivo

    WOW im not a apple fan being of my experience with iphones, but this article has to be the best article you have posted on android authority. so well written and really saw things a bit different. while i think a partnership would have been great its hard having an open mind company and a closed company work at hand…

  • Gilles LeBlanc

    Realy interesting and a great read, thanks Nate.

  • MasterMuffin

    Sorry I’m complaining again but “[quotenew qtext="We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business." qposition="right" qcolor="color2" qstyle="italic" qcap="normal" qsize="small"]“

    • Nate Swanner

      We’re working on, my friend. I promise.

  • karthik G

    good thinking, great Read

  • Scott Ricketts

    Great read and insight.

  • Jean-Claude

    I wish Mr. Jobs comes back to life for a day or two… Play with a Nexus 4, GS4, or most importantly, an HTC One. If he sees the hardware and the excellently revamped software on these phones, he would slap Tim Cook and go back to his grave :/

    • Mohammed Sahib

      Lol this would be the comment of the year! Btw I love both iPhone and high end droids.