What If Steve Jobs Ran Google?


When it came time for Sergey Brin and Larry Page to consider a CEO to run Google, the duo initially wanted to offer Steve Jobs the position. That's according to the Bloomberg video profile "Bloomberg Game Changers: Sergey Brin & Larry Page."

If Jobs had become Google's first CEO, what would Google look like today? Of course there's no right or wrong answer to this question, merely conjecture and speculation, creating a "what if" scenario similar to a line of code in a search algorithm or Android app.

Indeed, that's a difficult question to answer, admits Rob Griffin, senior vice president/U.S. director of search & analytics at Media Contacts, but you have to assume things would be different. Look at what Jobs did with Apple, he notes: "No other company has created new industries so successfully."

Griffin says Google sort of stumbled into its enormous success, compared with Jobs, who is more calculated and has shown he can do it, whatever "it" becomes, repeatedly. "The Google founders created a search product, but never foresaw what it would become, whereas Jobs set out to revolutionize the music industry with iTunes," he says.

Frank Lee, senior vice president of agency strategy at The Search Agency, thinks Google has lost a bit of innovative spirit and wonders if that would have happened with Jobs pushing beyond conventional limits. He says the iPad and iPhone are two devices that clearly push the boundaries in their respective device category.

Imagine if the iPad was powered by Google with Google apps, Lee suggests. It would run on an open platform that could really threaten the laptop. At a minimum, he says, Google would have become more than a search engine.

"On the other hand, Google is a company of engineers, while Apple is a company of designers," Lee points out. "Given Google's need for engineering prowess, Eric Schmidt's background seems fitting to become CEO of the company."

Perhaps mobile search might have converged faster, Google's logo would have read iGoogle, and we would hear less about lawsuits and privacy payouts. Interesting, too, that some believe the Apple culture became very "cliqueish," and very few who enter the cult leave.

Aaron Goldman, CMO at Kenshoo and the author of "Everything I know About Marketing I Learned from Google," believes Google would be a lot different with Jobs at the helm. Although some might think Google provides an "uncluttered" search engine, Goldman believes the search results could have been even "cleaner" and "less cluttered."

Google also would have focused more on products, rather than software, and on brand advertising, Goldman says. Remember the Apple vs. Microsoft ads. Google would have become much less "open and transparent."

Google isn't known for being a hardware company. Hardware requires raw materials, finished inventory and a supply chain to transfer goods and services from manufacturing to consumers. Software or applications are less costly to produce, and as we all know, downloadable from the Internet. Sure you need the brilliant minds to create the apps, but it doesn't require the company to tie up a boatload of cash in finished goods. So the money gets made in the apps and the hardware facilities the addiction.

Piper Jaffray Analyst Gene Munster pegs the smartphone market by 2015 at 39%, controlled by Android and 26% controlled by Apple. Collectively, the two will own 65% of the market. Still, Munster believes Apple is best positioned today to deliver the best integrated experience as long as it continues to open its platform.

Munster explains at first Apple limited the iPhone to its own pre-installed apps, but in July 2008 the company opened the door to third-party developers, increasing the "openness" of the platform, yet maintaining a closed operating system. Since then, Apple has added features to the developer SDK, giving app developers access to more of the iPhone's features.

Would all that have been different if Jobs had become Google's first CEO, and what would Apple look like today? We can only imagine.

Join us to ponder these types of questions with friends and colleagues at the Search Insider Summit from Dec. 8-11 in Park City, Utah.

3 comments about "What If Steve Jobs Ran Google?".
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  1. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, November 3, 2010 at 1:16 p.m.

    I wish to clarify something here. Jobs also was very lucky. Remember the Apple Newton which was before its time. We would not have IPods, IPhones, or the IPad if flash memory capacity had not improved when it did. Remember the first IPods had disk drives. Now its all solid state. And as you can see with the new Nano flash has gotten to where they can make such a small device. I have the first IPod Mini. Its heavy. Its thick. and its Big.

    So a lot of what occurred was right place right time as well.

    But very engaging and thoughtful question posed here.

  2. Mai Kok from So What, November 3, 2010 at 1:45 p.m.

    Google would never have grown as much as it has, if under Jobs. Part of the reason for Google's growth is its openness, particularly AdWords. Look at the stumbles of iAd. The only reason there's any traction on the iAd is because of iPad. And the only reason iPad has any traction is because of iPhone. AND - the only reason the iPhone has any traction is because of the iPod.

    Prior to Jobs returning, Apple was a sinking ship. It was being crushed by the PC and Microsoft. Then Jobs comes in and instigates the iMac, the iBook, the next gen big powered Apple desktops then the iPod, etc. Suddenly Apple is resurgent.

    Oh you want to talk the iTune? The iTune was built off the heels of Napster and other p2p platforms - only monetized and non-pirating. So let's not forget where the real revolution is in the MP3/online music world - it WASNT Jobs. It was Napster and the others - and Napster was eventually sued into submission and turned into a for-pay site. But as a for pay site, it sucked.

    The genius of Steve Jobs is that he can come in to a beat-up out for the count company or industry and turn it around. He turned Apple around, he took advantage of the dying traditional RIAA industry (already dying from Napster) and took the concept/platform of Napster and turned it into iTunes.

    Let's talk Pixar. What did Steve Jobs really do there? Pioneer? No, not really. Pixar technology developed out of the real Hollywood compu-tech pioneer master, Lucas (vis a vis Lucasfilms & ILM).

    Jobs took Pixar and turned it into a movie making company but only with Disney as its rabbi - feeding Pixar with stories. Granted Disney got hits in this partnership, but Pixar would not have been anything without Disney. And as anyone should know, a movie is still about story. Pixar didn't generate or write the stories.

    So, what did Steve Jobs really do? Simple - nothing.

    What is Steve Jobs about? He's a 5 yr old where everything is "mine mine mine!" And if he can't have it, he raises a stink.

    Everything is proprietary. Everything is legacy and closed with Jobs.

    In the early days of search, Yahoo was run very much like that. In fact, all "search" engines were run like that.

    I highly doubt Jobs would have enough foresight to see the potential of search. Just look at him now - even to this day, he does not see the potential of mobile search.

    He is hedging everything on mobile apps!

    In fact, Google under him may very well have been a slightly sexier Yahoo.

    I think people tend to wax poetically in hindsight rather recall what it was like living in the moment. Remember in 2000 you had Yahoo as supreme "search engine" aka search portal, AOL, and 2ndary portals like iWon, Alta Vista, Lycos (Carnegie Mellon), and many more (some still around). But during that time, the experience was all about portal.

    Google's revolution came by eliminating all that clutter.

    Given Jobs' own history, it's very unlikely he would have had the foresight to really buy into Google's take on search.

    Jobs has a history of being conquered by openness.
    Until Jobs proves he can change his stripes, watch for the limited "openness" of the iPhone to end abruptly.

    Google would be much smaller and less significant today under Jobs.

    Going back to Pixar, under Jobs' helm, Pixar was bought by Disney.

    I'd imagine Google would have been bought by Yahoo, the other dominant search engine/portal player in the early search wars.

  3. Tim Rosini from Duncan Mcintosh, November 8, 2010 at 3:36 p.m.

    Another interesting read and comparison is this article created and published by editor and publisher.

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