At the annual All Things Digital (WSJ) conference, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt took to the stage and answered a bunch of questions on a variety of topics.
Arguable his most telling insight was to identify what he considers to be the ‘big four' platform players in the tech industry as: Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. In the transcript from an edited recording of the interview below you can see some of his rationale.
For some reason the WSJ chose to edit out some of the juicy stuff from the video, something we only realised once we'd finished transcribing it. One biggie, according to search engine land, was his admission that as CEO he didn't focus enough on ‘identity', i.e. social. There was also the concession that Bing beats Google in some use cases.
Anyway, here's our transcript, which contains further choice morsels such as a look at the nature of today's music industry, Apple's privacy attacks, the third mobile platform and the future of the Internet. Enjoy.
"It seems to me that if you look at the industry as a whole, that there are four companies which are exploiting platform strategies very well. Obviously one of them, in my view, is Google, the other three being Apple, Amazon and Facebook.
"Each of them is a consumer brand that provides something that provides something that you can't do otherwise. And what's different now is that these are global companies with reach and economics that ten or twenty years ago one company had. So the question is: can each of the companies I name maintain the product excellence which is required, as the technology moves forward.
"Facebook has done a number of things which I admire. If you look back in the things I worked on, for years I said in the Internet we missed something, which is identity. Each of the companies I mentioned have managed to use a very modern concept of computer science, and very, very aggressive scaling approaches, to get large fairly quickly in the area they're focused on.
"The reality is that music is fundamental now from and entertainment, from a branding, from an experiential level on all of these devices. We have been attempting to convince the music industry to support a subscription model around cloud-based services, and we've not been able to come to terms.
"Fundamentally you're taking scarcity models and moving them to ubiquity models. So you have to go from a strategy where you charge a lot for a small number of copies, to charging a little in various other ways for a large number of copies.
"The simple answer about privacy is that Google will remain a place where you can do anonymous searches, and we're very committed to you having control over the information we have about you. "From our perspective the ultimate answer is about transparency - we tell people what we know and we give them the choice of getting it deleted."
On Jobs accusations of ‘a probe in your pocket': "So, to be very clear, we don't do that. The first is there's an opt-in for using that information if you use our various products which do social things, like Latitude and a couple of other things like that. There is a certain amount of information that goes back to Google which is anonymised. We do not store it, so the answer is it's never used against search.
"Basically, in a hundred years we've gone from the average person having access to almost no information, to the average person having access to all the world's information. To be part of that, for all of us in the room, is fundamental. If you imagine, for example, what the perfectly executing evil dictator would do with all this technology - complete supervision, complete tracking and so forth - and then you imagine what the dissident in that society would do using the very best encryption tools and so forth, unfortunately you conclude that exactly the same tools are the ones that would be used by terrorists against an open society.
"The extraordinary thing that has occurred in the last four or five years is that you can see computer science now solving real consumer problems. And I've argued, at least to some people, that what you're seeing is the death of IT as we know it."
Mobile platforms - what's the third choice for developers: "Well many people do not have a third choice because of the close nature of the iOS and objective C architecture of Apple. The effect of this is that the third platform - there's not enough resources really to develop for that, and that tends to favour the two leaders I think." Schmidt indicated he would pick NokiaSoft if forced.
Is the algorithmic approach still the right way to go? "On a search engine basis we make hundreds of improvements per quarter that you don't see. We're working very, very hard to first make the universal search, which is merging the answers for text, video and so forth, much more accurate.
The thing that we're doing which is more strategic is we're trying to move from answers that are link based to answers that are algorithmically based, where we can actually compute the right answer. We now have enough artificial intelligence technology, enough scale and so forth, that we can literally compute the right answer."
On his role: "I'm actually most concerned about what's happening to the Internet, as a whole. I'm very concerned that the sum of the economic interests - the reach of the Internet, the investment, all that kind of stuff - will ultimately lead to a balkanisation of the Internet. And as the Internet becomes more controversial, as the lack of harmony between different laws with respect to privacy, publicity, access to information, I'm very concerned that we'll end up with an Internet per country."
On Chrome OS: "The consumer doesn't understand anything we've just said. What they understand is that they have applications of one kind, that they download for an iPhone, they have a different store that they download different apps for the Android phone, and in the web they can download apps in that emergent market, and it's behind the other two. They'll know then as apps, but they're fundamentally HTML 5.
Another way to think about it is to think about things that are primarily web-resident or likely to be the most open, most exhaustive in terms of choice, and that's what the web is all about. I should put a plug in for the Chrome browser: if you're concerned about security you should use the Chrome browser. You could also use a Mac over a PC - speaking as a proud former board member of Apple - the viruses that are prevalent on the PC are not as likely to affect you on the Mac."
Looks like Schmidt really isn't a Microsoft fan.