Eric Schmidt: Android-Apple fight will define industry, MS Surface could be big

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Eric Schmidt thinks the battle between Google’s mobile platform Android and Apple could be the “defining fight in the industry today.” He also believes that Microsoft’s Surface could be a “big deal”, if it works and that riding in a self-driving car is life-changing.

“We’ve not seen platform fights at this scale,” he said in an interview with AllThingsD. “The beneficiary is you guys (i.e., consumers). Prices are dropping rapidly. That’s a wonderful value proposition.”

While the Google chairman was willing to speak about the importance of the fight, he was more reluctant to talk about how patents might affect it. In part this was because he felt he wasn’t qualified to talk about the technical details but also because it makes him “too upset”.

“These patent wars are death,” he said, saying that the real victims of patent trolling are the little companies that can’t afford to patent their products. He also notes that there are bound to be overlaps, intentional or not, in an industry where so many people are pushing similar boundaries with similar products. “I think this is ultimately bad, bad for innovation. It eliminates choices,” he said.

Schmidt is pretty blunt on the latest, map-fueled front between Apple and Google too. “Apple should have kept with our maps,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is they decided a long time ago to do their own maps and we saw this coming with their acquisitions. I think Apple has learned that maps are hard. We invested hundred of millions of dollars in satellite work, airplane work, drive-by work, and we think we have the best product in the industry.”

He refused to say meanwhile when Google would release a mapping product for iOS, if indeed it would happen.

“I don’t want to pre-announce products, but I can tell you that were we to do that Apple would have to approve it,” he said.

On leaving Microsoft out of “The Gang of Four”

Back when Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon formed a loose association known as “the Gang of Four”, there were question marks as to why Microsoft had been left out. The answer, it seems, is because the Redmond-based giant just wasn’t cool enough back then.

“They’re a well-run company, but they haven’t been able to bring state-of-the-art products into the fields we’re talking about yet,” he said. The Surface could however change that… if it works.

Schmidt also thinks that it represents a glimpse at what is going to increasingly become the norm in the tech space. “We’re going to see an explosion of integrated hardware/software solutions,” he said.

Just how far that integration could potentially go can be seen in Google’s self-driving car project. “It’s really an error that we’re allowed to drive the car,” said Schmidt. “Once we get a few bugs ironed out,” he said, a computer will be able to do things much better than we can.

Despite the innovative things happening at Google right now, Schmidt says he wouldn’t mind heading up Apple:

I was on Apple board, and I’ll always have a soft spot for them. I was very good friends and very close to Steve Jobs, and we miss him dearly. Jeff Bezos has made remarkable moves. And again, Facebook has a billion users.

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