Google's Miscalculated Obama Gambit
Oct 17, 2011 5:00 AM PT
Google's earnings knocked one out of the park last week but in other areas, things aren't going as well. Over the last few weeks, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt had to testify in front of Congress that Google wasn't like Microsoft, and the rules that applied to that company didn't apply to his.
Evidently unhappy with just cornering the Web advertising market, Google wanted to corner the market on arrogance as well. This was followed by an internal email that once again showcased that Google executives don't use or understand their own products, followed by Eric Schmidt getting a Google+ account. Welcome to your own product Eric!
Then one of its related products, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, was blocked from yet another country with the expectation that products from HTC and Samsung that use the Android platform will soon be blocked in the U.S. This, of course, has driven rumors that both firms are looking to buy webOS from HP and run screaming from Android. Even the very famous Vint Cerf is speaking out against the company now. This reminds me a great deal of how Microsoft let its image degrade in the 1990s, which appears to be the foundation for why its stock price has remained in the mud despite strong performance most of last decade.
But the really interesting thing is that Eric Schmidt and Google appear to be working on a deal to get President Obama to dance to Google's tune. Unfortunately for them, I doubt this will work, and I'll explain why.
Now, ironically, my product of the week is arguably the best Android tablet launched so far: the ThinkPad tablet, which promises to blend the business ideas of ThinkPad with the functionality of the iPad.
The Google Obama Gambit
Eric Schmidt has been Obama's biggest supporter of the jobs bill. In fact, out of tech, he appears to be about the only supporter -- at least, who is vocal. This kind of thing is typically done expecting a return favor -- and given the amount of effort Schmidt is putting into this, that favor must be huge.
With the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 now banned in one more country (Australia this time), the likelihood that it will be banned by the International Trade Commission in the U.S. is significant. This could easily set a precedent, allowing Apple's crack legal team to get all or most Android-based products banned in the U.S., which would clearly cripple the offering and likely lead to more bans in Europe and Asia.
The International Trade Commission can be overturned by the U.S. president under certain circumstances. While one of them isn't "the need to be reelected," Obama could clearly promote this as necessary to ensure competition instead -- giving Schmidt the Hail Mary pass Schmidt is likely to be working for, while not looking like he sold out the office of president.
Of course the fact that the jobs bill failed miserably last week in the Democratic Party-controlled Senate suggests Obama may not be feeling all that grateful, but another reason is even more likely for why the president will break this deal.
The Larry Ellison/Steve Jobs Wild Card
Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle -- and likely the scariest CEO still living -- was a close personal friend of Steve Jobs. He has a real issue with companies that allegedly steal from him and worked incredibly hard to nail SAP when he thought one of SAP's subsidiaries was stealing from him.
Ellison's attack on Google with Java appeared to be timed on top of the realization that Steve Jobs, Larry's closest friend, was ripped off by that company. In other words, Larry has Steve's back, and word is that Larry was very upset by Steve's death. Oracle has one of the most powerful lobbying teams on the planet, next perhaps to Microsoft's, and the idea that his president would take away his friend's victory likely won't sit very well with Larry, who has a writing relationship with publications like The New York times.
It is a given that Microsoft will likely support this move as well, and let's not forget one of the most powerful user groups on the planet: the Mac users. Many, if not most, of these folks took Steve Jobs' death nearly as hard as Larry did and likely can be mobilized to voice their objection to selling out their beloved icon in exchange for a bill that didn't even pass. In elections that can turn on single digit millions, a user base that in the U.S. is high double digit millions could make the difference between Obama getting elected and being a one-term president.
For a guy who has gone from hopes to missed promises due to political expediency, the likelihood he will risk his reelection to keep a promise to overturn a legal decision on a product that clones one from Apple just seems unlikely. While a mass uprising would be uncertain, the chance that these largely connected people could ensure a Republican win is simply too great to take -- and since the jobs bill failed anyway, this makes that result unlikely as well.
Wrapping Up: WTF Google?
I keep coming back to that Senate testimony and recall the 90s, when Microsoft was behaving in the same arrogant way. Google has become what was bad about Microsoft -- only this time, it is with personal information, not software -- and it appears to be trying to manipulate a sitting president to hurt the most successful tech company, Apple, in the country.
Do no evil my ass, their motto should be Google: Evil r'US!
Product of the Week: ThinkPad Android Tablet
This was the product that would showcase whether the Android platform could go beyond the iPad and define a more serious space and, initially, the ThinkPad Tablet appears to do exactly that. It is thicker and heavier than an iPad or Galaxy Tab. It is also easier to hold, and it is built like a tank (folks do drop these things) with a better-protected Gorilla Glass screen. I wouldn't toss this for distance, but it should survive drops that would shatter most tablets, including the iPad. This screen contains a digitizer that you can use with the optional US$30 electric stylus to take notes, sign forms, or doodle (I'm a big doodler).
At eight hours, battery life is good but falls short of the new iPad 2's 10-plus, but it is unique in that it charges from a USB port, which means you can charge it easily from your laptop or desktop computer if you want. Let me be clear: This uses an off-the-shelf micro-USB cable and doesn't require the special cable most other tablets require. For many, this is the best part. Like most Android devices, you do have to fiddle with the product a lot to get the icons where you can find them or want them, and there are a number of nice organizational offerings.
I always find myself missing the new Microsoft Metro interface now when I use these things, and I really think Google needs to bring the experience up a bit. Like most Android tablets, it is Nvidia Tegra 2-based, which means it has decent graphics. One cool think about Android now is when you sign in, it starts loading apps you have on other tablets. This is one thing I wish Windows would do, and I hope the new Windows app store will support -- so if you have one tablet, subsequent ones are faster to set up.
It comes with a Citrix client and remote management to keep you IT guys happy (this is a ThinkPad tablet after all), which showcase its business focus. It has an optional dock, but the best option is the keyboard folio. ThinkPads are famous for having the best keyboards, and this one doesn't disappoint. Many of the third-party iPad case/keyboard products are junk. This one is an amazing piece of engineering in that, when you are done, you basically have a touchscreen notebook computer. I can hardly wait to see this thing run Windows 8!
One funny thing is that there are four unique dedicated buttons that folks seem to struggle with. This is because they are designed so you won't push them accidentally, like the initial Kindle buttons were. Once you figure them out, they work like a dream. Price ranges from $499 for the 16 GB version to $669 for the 64 GB version. If you want a tablet that is a ThinkPad, this is your product -- and my product of the week.