Since Google co-founder Larry Page took over as CEO last year, he has adopted a managerial style of quiet leadership; last year, he quite literally lost his voice. In the meantime, former CEO and current executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, has been the public face of Google, serving as a window into the company's plans for the future. Schmidt's latest public appearance was last night at the 92nd Street Y in New York, where he talked about a wide range of issues that offered some insight into where Google is heading.
The interview was conducted by Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg and All Things D editor Kara Swisher. When asked about the most high-profile Google issue in the media in recent weeks -Apple's decision to drop Google Maps from iOS 6 - Schmidt said, "The fact of the matter is they decided a long time ago to do their own maps... Apple should have kept with our maps... What Apple has learned is that maps are really hard. We invested hundreds of millions of dollars in satellite work, airplane work, drive-by work to get the maps accurate and we think we have the best product in the industry."
But that opinion didn't stop Schmidt from heaping praise upon Apple. When asked by an audience member what company - other than Google - he'd choose to lead as CEO, Schmidt didn't hesitate to name Apple as his first and only choice. Schmidt served on Apple's board until August 2009. Nevertheless, Schmidt said he views the battle between Google's Android and Apple's iOS as the defining platform struggle of our time.
Schmidt avoided all questions related to possible acquisitions of competing tech companies, but he did reaffirm his notion of a "Gang of Four" companies leading the tech industry. "Something unusual has happened," he said. "There are four companies that are network platforms of one form or another that are generating enormous scale of global effects. We've not had that before in our industry... The four that we identified were Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google."
When asked why he still chooses to leave out one of the biggest names in technology, Microsoft, Schmidt says that the omission is deliberate. "Let's see what this new set of products does," Schmidt said, referring to Microsoft's upcoming lineup of Windows 8 devices. "They're a well funded, smart, well-run company. But they've not been able to bring out state-of-the art products in the spaces that we're talking about."
The conversation moved across a number of areas related to everything from the future of digital content, patent issues, and what Google has cooking in its labs that might surprise the public. Schmidt was reluctant to reveal any unannounced products, but when the interviewers mentioned Google's self-driving car, Schmidt's eyes lit up. "I have been driven by the car and it is a life changing experience," he said.
For Schmidt's full appearance, the 92nd Street Y has posted the hour-long video online.