A recently released book that details the bitter rivalry between Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) provides some fascinating insider views on how Android’s engineers reacted to the release of the original iPhone in 2007. According to an excerpt from Fred Vogelstein’s book recently published in The Atlantic, Google was planning on launching an Android-powered smartphone codenamed “Sooner” by the end of 2007.
However, in January of 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled the revolutionary iPhone at the Macworld convention in San Francisco. Android software engineer and former Apple employee Chris DeSalvo recalled his reaction to first seeing the iPhone in Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution. “As a consumer I was blown away. I wanted one immediately,” said DeSalvo. “But as a Google engineer, I thought ‘We’re going to have to start over.’”
Although Google had developed a mobile operating system with an Internet browser and multiple apps, its “Sooner” device was immediately made obsolete by the iPhone’s futuristic touchscreen-centered design. Google’s Sooner device emulated BlackBerry’s (NASDAQ:BBRY) clunky use of a traditional keyboard and featured a small display without a touchscreen user interface. “What we had suddenly looked just so nineties,” recalled DeSalvo via The Atlantic. “It’s just one of those things that are obvious when you see it.” Android executive Ethan Beard was also amazed by the iPhone’s revolutionary design. “We knew that Apple was going to announce a phone. Everyone knew that,” noted Beard via The Atlantic’s book excerpt. “We just didn’t think it would be that good.”
However, as noted in Vogelstein’s book, even after the launch of the iPhone it was not immediately apparent that Apple would emerge as the dominant smartphone vendor. Many Android engineers, including team leader Andy Rubin, thought that smartphone users wouldn’t easily adapt to using the iPhone’s virtual keyboard. Despite the iPhone’s instant popularity, Google still decided to ship its first Android device with a slide-out keyboard.
“I never got the feeling that we should scrap what we were doing — that the iPhone meant game over,” recalled former Android project manager Erick Tseng via The Atlantic. “But a bar had been set, and whatever we decided to launch, we wanted to make sure that it cleared the bar.” However, it soon became apparent that the iPhone’s touchscreen design was the new standard-bearer in the smartphone market and Google soon released its own touchscreen smartphone that had been developed under the codename of “Dream.”
According to data from market research firm Gartner, Google’s Android secured an 81.9 percent share of the worldwide market in the third quarter. However, despite Android’s widespread use, Apple has consistently been able to take the lion’s share of the mobile phone market profits. Canaccord Genuity analyst T. Michael Walkley recently told Apple Insider that the iPhone maker secured 56 percent of the global mobile market’s profits in the third quarter of this year.
Follow Nathanael on Twitter (@ArnoldEtan_WSCS)