Google's two-front war with Apple and Facebook; who are the winners and the losers?

I’ve now heard from three separate Google employees that Google will release a news feed that will compete with Facebook and Twitter. I expect to see a demo at Google’s IO conference in April. For hints at what’s coming you MUST look at two foundation-level services:

1. Google Profiles. Google is asking you to voluntarily add all sorts of information about yourself. So far I’ve told it more than I’ve told Facebook or Twitter, here’s my Google Profile. Why? Because it’s available to all of you and this data gets added all sorts of places in the Google ecosystem. It shows up on searches for my name at the bottom of the page, for instance.

2. Google’s Social Circles Connections. This just turned on last week but most people in the industry have missed the importance of what’s here. First, now you can see that Google is crawling not just its own profile info, but the networks we’re building in Twitter, FriendFeed, Digg, Flickr, LinkedIn,, and other social networks. You can’t see it, but the list it’s showing me is yards long. If you’ve filled in your Google Profile info, like I have, it knows a TON about you. If you’ve followed me on Google Chat (I’m at if you want to follow me) or Twitter or FriendFeed you’ll see my entry show up there.

What is next? Well, that Google Profile page is looking pretty lame, isn’t it? What if Google added a news feed? What if they made an even better rolodex than the ones available anywhere else? Remember what happened when I got the Google Nexus One phone? I entered my email address and all my contacts instantly appeared. Oh, yeah, you didn’t realize that Google was keeping all your contacts, did you?

You can see the battle being drawn right in front of you. This is why I believe FriendFeed decided to sell to Facebook. They knew this war was coming and they didn’t stand a chance against this epic decade-long battle that is just beginning between Google and Facebook.

But that’s just one front. What’s the other front?

Look at Techmeme right now. What’s the top story? One where Techcrunch is saying that Apple has another tablet coming. I love that everyone is giving Techcrunch heck for that, but I’ve heard these rumors too. But look further and you’ll find this article where Techcrunch is pointing to a Google site that has a first taste of Google Chrome OS-based Tablet PCs.

I’ve been hearing these rumors from friends in Asia who are working on a variety of machines for Google’s new OS. Both netbook-style machines, which Steve Jobs says are crappy, but also slates that compete head on with the iPad.

Google is arrogant enough to take on Apple and Facebook in the same year.

So, who will come out ahead in this war? Believe it or not, Apple and Facebook will actually get stronger during this fight.

Already look at the PR we’ve been hearing the past month. It’s been nothing but Apple and Google. Apple and Google. Apple and Google.

Where’s Microsoft? Where’s Nokia? Where’s RIM? Where’s Twitter? Where’s LinkedIn? These are the losers if the battle keeps being framed by Apple and Google and Google and Facebook.

But who else wins? Developers, developers, developers, developers. Why? Because I’m hearing rumors that Twitter is trying to charge developers for access to its full-firehose feed. How much? I can’t yet say because I haven’t confirmed the figures with Twitter but let’s just say that the figures I’m hearing are BIG. Six to eight figures big depending on the size of the company.

Now, what if Google turns on a microblogging/status message system like Facebook or Twitter have (already done on Google Chat, but I was thinking more like what Facebook looks like)? What happens if they also open up an application store (oh, already done on Android, or as they announced yesterday for business apps)? What happens if they give away access to these APIs for free instead of trying to charge developers tons of money?

Boom, boom, boom. Developers love having these kinds of platforms in competition to keep access up and pricing down.

How can Microsoft get noticed enough to be considered part of this war?

Steve Ballmer has to call in the Master Chief. You know, the guy in Halo. A new Halo is coming later this year (I saw a preview at CES and it’s pretty cool). I’m hearing rumblings that Microsoft will use its Xbox Live service to get into both battlefields later this year (Microsoft has moved many top executives and engineers over to a new team designed to compete more effectively with Apple’s iPhone). One by bringing out a Zune phone. If it has Xbox Live and an Xbox gaming platform on it, look out. That would be HUGE. The other one by opening up its Xbox Live service to be more like Facebook. Xbox Live already has a marketplace and already has a social network that’s very good and that most of us tech bloggers don’t pay enough attention to. One problem: I’m hearing from employees who work inside these teams that the political will to really develop a good Xbox-playing smartphone isn’t there. If that’s true, look for Microsoft to remain shut out of the battlefield and to remain a loser in the mobile space.

What can Nokia do?

I think the best shot Nokia has is its Maemo platform, but it alone isn’t enough. It needs more. I’d almost say that it needs to buy something like Twitter AND buy Palm. But both of those ideas are so ludicrous (or will be received that way inside Nokia) that they won’t happen. Look for Nokia to continue to sell lots of stuff to the rest of the world but be locked out of the most profitable markets.

Research in Motion?

First RIM has to realize it has a problem. The minute some Chinese company develops a great Android-based phone with a great keyboard they will start to see lots of people shift away. But for now, because RIM has the best keyboards in the business, they don’t need to really innovate too much. That said, I’m starting to hear rumors that they are working on a dramatically different OS to compete with iPhone/iPad so it’ll be interesting to watch their moves. I still see them as losers, though, because Apple and Google are clearly taking away mindshare at minimum.

Anyway, it’s clear that Google is the most arrogant player on the field. They feel they can actually carry out a war with both Apple and Facebook and they feel they can win.

Personally I’m cheering for Google. Why? Because between Apple, Facebook, and Google, Google is the most open, least controlling, and transparent company of the three.

Of course, tomorrow night I’m going to an event at Facebook where they are showing off some new developer-focused stuff for PHP developers, so it’ll be interesting to watch all three of these companies battle over developers and mindshare. It’s fun to be a tech blogger again!

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at


  1. I didn't know about Google Contacts. Surprisingly it has all my contacts even from my cell. Still trying to figure out how did they got those. I have never used any Google phone. Do you have any clue?

  2. Ah. Old-style blogging. Like a breath of fresh air. Keep it up!

    That Twitter is charging for the firehose is not a new development, but an important one for them. As they do not yet have the advertising model in place (which we will love as we were told), the business development side needs to share a burden of dollars, and developers who want access to their IP (the user's data) need to pay up.

    That Google and Apple are on a collision course is public and going on in front of us. Microsoft is an also-ran in the games that actually matter, and what's interesting about Google and Apple is that they are both managing to produce high quality products that people like, in a way that they can push the other to improve. Either way, customers win!

    As for Google taking on Facebook (and Twitter, etc.), I think it is fair to know they want to. They have my attention on the content creation side (Blogger) and the content consumption side (Reader) and the content discovery side (Search, etc.). They recognize the power of realtime. They do have a lot of my data. Can they do something with this in a way that is compelling? It's hard, and so far, no. We've talked a lot about aggregation, so it will have to be something much more than that, or else they've just reinvented FriendFeed.

    I'm signed up to go to Google I/O this year. I don't need to liveblog/livestream it. I just want to be there to see what the people making the decisions are thinking and doing. I don't need an Android phone, and I may not need the first rev of anyone's tablet. But all this development can only help users. I would much rather it be Google/Apple/Facebook than many different alternatives.

  3. Yup, Google's failures here are many. Dodgeball. Jaiku. Orkut, etc. Google isn't a very social company, but these latest moves seem to me to be more of a platform approach and that they are taking a slow and steady course to building it all themselves from the foundation up. When you are a huge company like Google you can take a 10-year approach. It worked for Microsoft as they got into the console gaming business and it'll work here, too.

  4. Great Post. I don't see Google eating social network's lunch. We all keep saying G suck at it, and i believe that even if they pull out something really great, it won't get enough users to become a threat for facebook or twitter.

    As for Twitter charging for full firehose access, it makes sense since they charged google/bing for it. But if they are also going to charge smaller feeds (birddog or gardenhose), it will look really bad for them. Twitter has said at Leweb that they wanted every developer, even two-man-working-in-a-garage startups, to have access to its data. And we all know that this kind of startup would be abble to pay even dollar or two for their data.

  5. I'm pretty sure this won't be like their earlier, failed, efforts. Don't assume they will keep failing. As for Twitter, watch what they do with rate limits and other limits. You'll have access if you're small. BUt if you're a Tweetdeck or a Seesmic? You'll have to put some pretty sizeable cash on the table. Which is probably fair, but it will cause companies to support competitors who will supply it cheaper.

  6. I'm pretty sure this won't be like their earlier, failed, efforts. Don't assume they will keep failing. As for Twitter, watch what they do with rate limits and other limits. You'll have access if you're small. BUt if you're a Tweetdeck or a Seesmic? You'll have to put some pretty sizeable cash on the table. Which is probably fair, but it will cause companies to support competitors who will supply it cheaper.

  7. There's such a lot more Google can do with the “Social Circle.

    1) It isn't real-time. the first level of connection is Direct connections from your Google chat buddies and contacts. All of a sudden it is important if your Google contacts are on the right lists, Family, Friends or Coworkers. I added 500 contacts to Coworkers and many have Google Profiles, but the Direct Connections haven't changed. “This is a recent snapshot of your social circle. Changes you make to your connections will be reflected in the next snapshot.” The help page says “If you recently added new links to your profile, know that it may take a couple weeks or longer for your social search results to reflect the new contacts and content.” Weeks???? That's hopeless.

    2) Search the social circle. Who has Facebook fan pages I don't follow? What blogs etc do friends produce? Which blogs do friends follow most that I don't subscribe to?

    3) Help users make and monitor connections. How about a table cross referencing friends/contacts and their outlets/services (Twitter, FB fan, blog) with key date (posts/#followers/tags) and actions to join/follow/unsubscribe

    4) Bring in Facebook connections, at least people's fan pages.

  8. Another weapon in Google's armoury: Wave.

    Twitter is centralised and proprietary. Exactly how did micro-blogging get like that compared to blogging? No matter. Wave, decentralised and open, will be the death of Twitter. Although Automattic is far from short of ideas on this front too.

  9. Oh, I can see a TON of things I'd improve. But, I see these for what they are: foundational pieces that will be built on by other development teams. Good points.

  10. Yeah, I still hate Wave's UI, but that's a fixable problem. There is a lot of brilliance underneath. Yeah, Automattic is definitely making some good plays here. Never underestimate Matt Mullenweg, that dude is smart.

  11. “The web is its own ecosystem, and its parasites will soon be overcome. Users will soon be aware of the little “comment”, “remove” and “promote” buttons integrated to their search result, and Google is gonna turn social, since I've never seen it yet embrace a technology without wanting to use it for itself.”

    I blogged that last December, and I've been convinced since a while ago that they have the power to turn into a social monster, enabling voice calls and document sharing. Wave might even be the sandbox for such a system.
    If they do that Apple is dead as a platform, so is Microsoft, they've never really been associated to either social networking nor “the internet” as many users see it. Google is the center of it all now, and it intends to remain so.

  12. Great post Robert!
    I was just thinking to myself, “what if Google started to stream news, maybe alongside with Google profiles?”. So I was glad to read that they're on to something like that.
    My vote goes to Google too on this on. I've actually started to move away more and more from Facebook, due to their privacy issues.
    Now, if I want someone (friend, family, colleague) to share pictures with I give them the link to my Picasa Album. That way, I control who can see my photos.
    So if Google could build something with the profiles it would be great, I also think they they could make the privacy settings much better and safer than Facebook.
    So, Google profiles with a news feed of my status updates, my latest YouTube favorite/upload, my latest Picasa photos, latest Reader shared items (and of course Twitter, etc etc.).

  13. Surprised so many peeps haven't filled out their Google Profiles, that's the first thing i did when i read about google social search. There's a “never-ending” hype around these companies, but i'm steering for $GOOG without a doubt, they'll get it and quick like.

    Thanks for spoon-feeding us bud.

  14. Google has 25,000 developers. Apple owns style at high margins. They are the winners for the forseeable future. MSFT will be the 3rd player/winner; they have Windows distribution (at least for a while) to keep up and with it they'll get into mobile and related OS.

    To me Facebook is looking like trouble (despite numbers); it's old and boring as hell. Twitter and the others are also looking like an emperor without clothes.

  15. Likewise w/re to all Google social … it all lies just under the surface.

    I keep waiting for the entire space to standardize, where Facebook isn't the location but the internet is, of course FB popularized having a space (after myspace did so within a niche). It's a bit like every business needs a basic web presence, like a yellow pages listing, and it should have very basic meta information. Will this happen for individuals too?

  16. Great post Robert. Having been with Nokia over the last 3 years I agree that they would probably not jump on buying something like twitter, I wish they had early on, the amount of access they have to SMS gateways would have made it a massive, global game changer. That being said, another option is for either apple or google to partner with them as a manufacturing and distribution partner, Nokia has a very unique ability to make and ship phones at a scale and global reach that no one is going to duplicate in the next decade. They sold 163 Million phones just in the last quarter. Both Google and Apple could benefit from that, and to be quite honest they are much better at the actual engineering of all the unique elements of mobile phones like antenes etc. that put the iphone to shame. Google could buy them and it would not be a bad move.

  17. You wrote:

    “Remember what happened when I got the Google Nexus One phone? I entered my email address and all my contacts instantly appeared. Oh, yeah, you didnt realize that Google was keeping all your contacts, did you?”

    “Google is arrogant enough to take on Apple and Facebook in the same year.”

    Well it would very much appear that Google has other forms of “arrogance” that may well be, being displayed?

    I don't have a Google Nexus One phone. Consequenly, Google don't have my mobile number nor does Google have a list of all my contacts, for Google to keep. Right?

    Today I am unable to open my G Mail account. (In spite of my password being accurately typed in, when asked for. Google says, no problem …. Just give us your mobile number and we will take it from there. Do no Evil?


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    Now that is not only arrogant but simply put, is EVIL, me thinks….

  18. Google’s “most open?” Really? Such great news! I wasn’t aware of this. Where can I download the code for their search algorithms and Google mail and their advertising system and Google maps and Wave and Google Desktop and Google Toolbar and Google Earth… and… wow, I’m just getting carried away here. One open source codebase at a time, right? But anyway, if you can point me in the right direction, I’d appreciate it, ‘cuz I’m not finding anything when I Google for it.

  19. Smokin piece – great outlay on what lies ahead. The boys/girls in Silcon Valley are sitting at the main table with there stacks of chips. How and when they decide to anty up will be fascinating to watch unfold. One other thing to keep an eye on is the 'cloud' and to me google is amassing the most important information, just like you said.

  20. I know it's strictly verboten to refer to Adolf Hitler or the Nazis in any online forum, but in this case I think it's legitimate to point out Google's attack on Apple and Facebook is a little like the German army going on the offensive against the USSR while still fighting a war on the Western front. If you don't like this analogy, then think Japan attacking Pearl Harbour while fighting a war in Asia.

    In my clumsy militaristic way I'm trying to say that no-one is powerful enough to take on two enemies at the same time. The first thing likely to happen is the enemies learn to co-ordinate their strategies.

  21. Very interesting piece – Google's the “information” company – let's see how it does against hardware-centric Apple and social media-centric Facebook.

  22. Perhaps more relevantly, beyond basic search and Gmail (which itself was just webmail with much more storage space), I am not aware of any organically grown Google initiative that has achieved widespread success. Adwords? Google Maps? Google Docs? Android? Google Voice? All of those came from outside the company (purchased, one way or the other). So if Google is successful, it's likely going to involve (even more) outside purchases.

  23. Good point Bill. I agree, Google is definitely got its work cut out for it. Also the point about twitter trying to charge developers and Google offering up access for free, sounds about right. If history is anything to go by you can expect Google to do just that to help get its foot in the door.

  24. I really don’t think that Google has what it takes to win this war. They are to “engineery”, Have they ever succeeded in creating any kind of community?

  25. I think we’ll continue to see just a few major players continue to gain dominance and others fall back, some to essentially disappear, at least from a relevance standpoint.

    Microsoft, the giant, can’t seem to move nimbly enough, or in the right direction.

  26. Hello, can anyone, in brief, explain me from where Google is actually earning all the money from? Is it just it’s advertising? I am finding it hard how Google has more money/revenue only through advertising to go against a company like Apple who are earning from Macs, iPhone, iTunes and tons of other products? Also how Google benefits from Android when it is actually giving it away for free?

    I am newbie, sorry for that :)

  27. Robert

    You said in point 1 'Google Profiles': : “It shows up on searches for my name at the bottom of the page, for instance.

    Not sure it does?

    I haven't seen the original, (and killer feature) profile panel show up in Google search results for ages.

    In my browser, doesn't show up on the link you give in my search results.

    Anybody else seeing Roberts Google profile in search results?

    Maybe I'm doing something wrong/haven't got some preference switched on in Google account?

    best, m.

  28. The idea of Microsoft competing in this space through XBox Live seems ludicrous to me. I am a social network guy, using all of the major platforms for both work and in my personal life. But I'm not a gamer and never will be a gamer. The chances of me ever buying an Xbox are pretty much nil and I think there's a lot of people like me who love to share information and creativity, but don't give a damn about gaming.

    Given the battle lines you've drawn here, I don't see how Microsoft can compete on that platform — unless I'm totally missing something. Their best option (and their options are becoming limited by the day) is to work with their partners to develop some great software and hardware combinations that leverage existing social platforms.

  29. I wish, I wish, Google would provide some means to merge accounts and profiles. I've got at least 5 and probably more across all their properties.

  30. “Personally I’m cheering for Google. Why? Because between Apple, Facebook, and Google, Google is the most open, least controlling, and transparent company of the three.” And yet they grabbed your entire address book without advance notification? I'm not clear that the motivations of any of these companies is clear as of yet. Lets hope for no clear cut winner but continued competition.

  31. Rob,
    Great posts. We believe that Google's new feed service will add more value to the ecosystem of social sharing and Socialwok will be one of the 1st third party developers to integrate and federate with Google.


  32. Rob,
    Great post. We believe that Google's new feed service will add more value to the ecosystem of social sharing. In addition to the Google Marketplace place, developers will win in this.

    Both are pretty big initiatives in our view, Socialwok will be one of the 1st third party developers to integrate and federate with Google's feed service and will be on the Google Marketplace. Look to chat more with you on this.


  33. Even the war begins, Google is already a winner. Because the resources it is using is just excess in their profit target. In short nothing to lose.

  34. Even the war begins, Google is already a winner. Because the resources it is using is just excess in their profit target. In short nothing to lose.