Where’s your “thermonuclear war” now, Apple? – Larry Page on Android, Apple, driverless cars and secret experiments

January 18, 2013
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google ceo larry page

You’ve got to hand it to geniuses like Larry Page, one third of the so-called Google triumvirate, who is currently the company’s Chief Executive Officer. Fifteen odd years after co-founding what is now the world’s biggest search engine — and picking up a few tech assets along the way — Page sat down with Wired for an interview, in which Steven Levy picked his brain for his thoughts and opinions on a handful of matters.

Autonomous cars, augmented reality and shooting for the moon

First among these is about Google X Lab, which is Google’s secretive skunkworks laboratory, and which the company uses for research and development, and which have produced some of the more interesting technologies the company has been experimenting with, such as Project Glass and the Driverless Car.

Google is shooting for the moon with some of these projects, but Page says such moon-shot projects are important to innovation. Unlike some companies such as Apple, which seem to be focusing on a very small number of things (which is not altogether bad, Page says, since it’s working well for the very profitable Cupertino company), Google wants to spend its resources on solving a lot of problems. “We have all this money, we have all these people, why aren’t we doing more stuff?” Page asks.

The Google co-founder is not worried about wasting his time on trivial efforts that people might say will involve spending too much money on “crazy things.” For instance, some of the mainstream and established technologies today have been products of these pursuits. “But those are now the things they’re most excited about—YouTube, Chrome, Android. If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.”

Of course, Google is not only spending time on the outliers and on the seemingly crazy tech that people might end up taking for granted five or ten years from now. There are always the mundane tasks like trying to implement a consistent look and feel for Google’s core products like Chrome, Search or Gmail, as well as integrating the user experience when you have dozens and dozens of ways to share a single piece of information. “A great deal of my effort is spent making sure that we have a great user experience across our core products,” Page has stressed.

On Android

Perhaps the more exciting part of the interview with Page would involve his thoughts on the smartphone ecosystem and the “thermonuclear war” that Steve Jobs promised that his company would wage against Android, which the late ex-CEO called a “copycat product.”

“How well is that working?” Page asked, referring to whether Apple had been successful in its attempts so far to fight against Android head-on. Recall that Apple waged legal battles against major Android smartphone manufacturers, and even won a landmark billion dollar case against Samsung for patent infringement. Other cases are ongoing, although Apple has been able to reach a compromise with some companies like HTC.

However, Samsung is now winning the war. It’s not exactly in the legal arena where Apple brought the game, but in the market, where Samsung has trounced its competition, with Android leaving the iPhone in the dust in sales and market share.

It was not always all fun with Android, though. When Google acquired the mobile startup sometime in 2005, there was uncertainty whether the product would fly. But what was certain was that “existing mobile operating systems were terrible.” Google stood its ground, and found success several years after. “I don’t think that betting on Android was that big a stretch. You just had to have the conviction to make a long-term investment and to believe that things could be a lot better.”

Page even found time to (unintentionally) rub some salt in Apple’s wounds, recalling the recent iOS 6 Maps kerfuffle. While the Google CEO was careful not to comment on partner relationships, he stressed that when iPhone users lost Google Maps functionality, they started appreciating it even more. “[W]e’ve been working on Maps for a long time, and it’s nice to see people realize that we’ve put a lot of effort and investment into it. That’s clearly more appreciated now.”

Apart from moon-shot projects, Android vs. iPhone and secret skunkworks facilities, Page shared insights on other issues like Motorola Mobility’s independence, Google’s employee count and the company’s weekly TGIF meetings (which are actually held Thursdays). Check out the source link for the Wired interview. Given that you’re probably already an Android fan, you might already be familiar with much of the platform’s history and recent news. But this will be a good read nonetheless, especially if you like the thought of sci-fi ideas coming to reality. Anyone interested in artificial brains?