Steve Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson says Apple less innovative than Google, suggests Tim Cook vulnerable

Walter Isaacson, author of the biography Steve Jobs, said in a CNBC TV interview that Apple is now less innovative than Google, and that while securing the China Mobile agreement was a big deal, it was less important than Google’s acquisition of Nest.

Google buying Nest shows an amazingly strong, integrated strategy that Google has to connect all of our devices, all of our lives … the Internet of things is actually real, there are these devices we’re gonna want to have and Google’s going to get ahead of that game […]

The greatest innovation today is coming from Google. Fadell was one of the team that created the iPod. He was very deep into the Apple culture … when Apple was so innovative … Now Tony Fadell is going to Google because he’s part of the Nest deal …

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When it was put to him that Apple was almost certainly working on exciting new products in its labs, Isaacson responded that Steve Jobs would have wanted to be doing the next disruptive thing right now, and implied that Tim Cook was vulnerable if he didn’t do so this year.

Steve Jobs was a disruptor. I think that now Tim Cook has done this big thing in China, he’s got two things to do now: take over the company … In the late February shareholders meeting, they probably have to start thinking about who should be on the board next. This board is all Steve Jobs’ people. They aren’t exactly the Tim Cook fan club

Second, he’s got to say ‘What am I going to disrupt? Is it going to be wearables? Is it going to be a watch? Is it going to be TV?’. We ought to see, in 2014, Apple do something huge.

While Apple’s secrecy is legendary, Tim Cook has on several occasions that the company has “big plans” for 2014. In Apple’s Q2 earnings call last year, he said:

I’m just saying we’ve got really great stuff coming […] across all of 2014.

And in an email to staff last month, said:

We have a lot to look forward to in 2014, including some big plans that we think customers are going to love,

Speculation on what those plans might include has focused on a larger screen iPhone, a larger iPad, a Thunderbolt 4K display, a television and a smartwatch.

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  1. Ambrose Bierce - 9 years ago

    Who died and made Walter Isaacson God? He’s a writer, not some technical leader. His opinion is no more important than anyone else’s.

    • Ben Lovejoy - 9 years ago

      His views will be given weight due to the inside access he had

      • rogifan - 9 years ago

        Hmm…there has to be a motive behind these comments. I have a feeling he wants to write another book, on someone like Larry Page or Jeff Bezos. To do that he has to ingratiate himself with the right crowd, and this crowd is bearish on Apple.

      • Canuk Storm - 9 years ago

        Are you kidding me? Isaacson had an opportunity of a lifetime access to SJ and he blew it with his book. It’s atrocious. Even Siracusa’s critique of the book was scathing. His weight deserves no due.

      • Anton - 9 years ago

        Despite all this access the guy failed in so many ways to give credit to various technology advances made by Apple and NeXT that brought fourth the innovations everyone is so happy about. He might have captured some Jobs’ personality and character in the book, but after reading the book it’s impossible to trust anything he says about technology or innovation.

    • Dave Hunwick - 9 years ago


    • Ryan Rosenkaimer - 9 years ago

      This makes me laugh as do all the ‘technical industry writers/analysts’ who predict whats happening next and who’s going to be the leader here and there. I can make the same educated guesses and be wrong just as much as them. Matter of fact, I will make a prediction right now that I am sure we will see a headline for in a few days..

      EVERYBODY…Apple will release the iPhone 6…in 2014!

  2. p101616 - 9 years ago

    Omg, if Walter says that, it’s 100 percent correct. Wait? Why is Apple erning 170 Bln. US$ a year an Google just a third of that? So what, Walter is no tech guru. He’s just an author.

    • South Jersey Droid - 9 years ago

      Because Apple overcharges for all their products, and you continue to buy 2 year old tech for 2016 prices.

      • James Ramos - 9 years ago

        Butthurt spotted. Still, people tend to buy those “overprice” products rather than android (goole) products simply because of optimize OS and fast updates. They may be less innovative now but every stuff they put in their products are really helpful.

      • p101616 - 9 years ago

        Haha. Do you really believe this?

  3. rogifan - 9 years ago

    Just because Walter Isaacson wrote a biography of Steve Jobs it doesn’t make him an authority on Apple the company.

  4. mockery17 - 9 years ago

    Just because Apple makes less products than Google doesn’t mean Apple is less innovative. Apple has always been about quality, not quantity. Short-sighted imbecilic idiot… I can’t believe he wrote the biography of Steve Jobs.

  5. PMZanetti - 9 years ago

    What a dumbass. Hey Walter, People with common sense DONT WANT GOOGLE anywhere near important aspects of their lives. Granted, there are plenty of morons in the world who would just as soon use Gmail, Google docs, and an Android phone because they don’t know any better… But then again, identity theft, spam, advertising, and general privacy invasion needs to have some customers doesn’t it?

    • South Jersey Droid - 9 years ago

      And Apple doesn’t collect or sell any of your information…. HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

      • Mike Klipsch - 9 years ago

        Apple isn’t an advertising company. Google is first and foremost an advertising company who wants you to think they’re more than that. The reason they are so big is because of the information they can get about people. Google is the ‘default’ engine for most people and since Google knows a lot about you (interests, places you go, your friends and their interests, what e-mails you get, etc) they can serve ads that are extremely relevant to that user, resulting in a high likelihood of that user converting/purchasing.

        Most of Google’s revenue is from advertising, not sales of any physical product. And how many times does Google buy a company, only to take the employees & shut down the service? That doesn’t sound like innovation, it sounds like stifling the competition.

  6. rahhbriley - 9 years ago

    Man I know this guy interviewed Steve but I don’t think he has thee authority to declare this. I don’t know where to begin. Maybe with the fact that what makes Apple great is focus. I’m as bummed as anybody that Nest wasn’t purchased by Apple. But it’s probably not the right time. Apple has many other initiatives they need to focus on before a grand leap into home automation. And unlike google, Apple doesn’t buy companies to not absorb. Google keeps buying companies and having them keep functioning as separate business arms. That’s not Apples style. When the purchase a company they absorb and use them to make their own Apple branded products.
    And if Issacson is worried about speed of “innovation” (really starting to hate the word), he needs to look at the history of Apple. 07-10 is an anomaly. The iPad was tabled to allow the iPhone to come out first. Typically two revolutionary products wouldn’t be released back to back In that close of time frame. There’s obviously been snags on an Apple Television, but let’s wait until it or the iWatch come out before we say that he’s not “innovative.”
    Not all innovation is a new product category. iOS 7, touch ID, Mac Pro, are pretty awesome. The tweaks to the iPad and the iPad mini were needed. Issacson has no idea of the projects that are in the works at Apple. They may have not even needed Nest, and would have been wasting money?? Idk but that’s the point and neither does Issacson.
    And frankly, Cook has always been more of an operational CEO. He knows how to delegate and other exces, including but not limited to Jonny. I’ve long though that 2014 would be the year of when we really see what Cook is about. I’m highly assumptive that roadmap they’ve been following thus far is one Steve was involved in developing.
    Rant out** dropping mic**

    • mockery17 - 9 years ago

      You may have written a rant but I agree with you wholeheartedly. Most companies are fortunate enough to have even one revolutionary product… And Apple has had four. One must not forget there was a six-year gap between the iPod and the iPhone, and a 17-year gap between the Mac and the iPod.

    • Jason Piebes - 9 years ago

      Apple is already at the heart of home automation. Any relevant product out there is using iOS as the interface.

  7. garyfink - 9 years ago

    He’s looking for a new spotlight

  8. Gaurav Singh - 9 years ago

    Its tough to compare the two companies because they are so very different at the core..Apple’s north star as tim cook has said time and time again is to make great electronic products even if that means long design times..Google is the information GOD which wants to pick up maximum amount of customers for its Free Open source mobile OS. Tough to compare the level of innovation between these companies based on company acquisitions and definitly not by comparing apple to orranges..They did the china deal because they almost had too..It was a lucrative market for them, and they had to work something out to gain access to the 100+ million smartphone customers. This was not an acquisition from a point of view of IOS diversification and broader fringe market capture. Totally useless comparison. Google may well be more innovative than apple, but its retarded to draw that conclusion based on the china mobile vs nest deals.

  9. Mark Freedman - 9 years ago

    Google is innovative because they paid an obscene amount of money for Nest? The reality is that Isaacson is desperate to promote himself by rolling out the Apple can’t survive without Steve Jobs trope.

  10. Laughing_Boy48 - 9 years ago

    Even if Tim Cook leaves Apple, who would they replace him with that would guarantee things would get better for Apple. As a shareholder, I would just like Cook to make a few changes regarding to using that reserve cash to expand Apple’s business further, but that’s about it. As long as Apple has its present profit share business model, it will never be favored by Wall Street. Apple will simply have to go out and pile on massive amounts of revenue and increase dividends if institutional investors don’t like the way the company is currently being run. I’d personally like to see Apple go against Google in the search engine business but maybe vengeance has no place in carrying out a long-term business plan. Android is going to be dogging Apple everywhere it goes and I don’t like Apple simply letting Google do anything it pleases to hinder Apple’s hardware business and not be challenged. Cook just needs to be a little more aggressive and not let Google slide all the time.

    • Jason Piebes - 9 years ago

      You do realize that Apple is the most profitable company in the world right? Number 1. There is no one out there with a better business plan. Shouldn’t the rest of the world be taking tips from Apple?

      • South Jersey Droid - 9 years ago

        They are profitable because they rape and pillage every customer with products that aren’t worth half of what they sell them for. Google, at least sells their products at a reasonable price, invests their money in other areas of tech, and move forward. Apple only moves from bank to bank with your money.

  11. Justin Cabral - 9 years ago

    Give me a fucking break. Just because Steve Jobs asked him to follow him around and write his biography, doesn’t mean we should give two shits what he says about the tech industry.

    Google more innovative? I didn’t know buying up every company with a great idea is called innovation. To me it just shows which company is more focused.

    Apple only fully enters markets to disrupt them, while Google just throws a plate of spaghetti at the wall and hopes one of their crazy ideas stick.

    I love Apple, and I love Google, but to say that Tim Cook should be worried is an absolute joke. The employees love him, and I think he’s going to go down as being as important to Apple as Steve was. While Steve jobs built this incredible innovation rocket known as Apple and nurtured it to lift off, Tim has an equally important job of keeping the rocket on course and not crashing back down to earth with silly products. It’s all about focusing on making the best products in the world, and Tim Cook clearly understands this.

  12. vamshipillari - 9 years ago

    This is the same author who said “I think Apple is still innovative because it has great people and the culture that was developed throughout the company to continuously work on innovation and brining new ideas on to the table and making quality prodcuts with simplicity”. Not the exact words but exact essence of what he said. I read the biography he wrote and I respect him for the work he has done and there is some weightage to what he says in the media. But I think when Steve Jobs trusted him and revealed intimate details of his personal life and gave him access to his lab, it does not mean he should be coming to the lime light and making public statements. I think it is harmful to the company and whole industry.

  13. Kennet Todack - 9 years ago

    Can anyone tell why it was wise for Google to purchase Nest for an obscene amount of money? Nest has one product, a house thermostat, how many people are going to rush out and change out their current thermostat for the expensive Nest model? Has Google and all the tech writers lost their minds. I’ll admit the Nest product is innovative but not enough to move a large block of people to buy.

    • hmurchison - 9 years ago

      You have to have a mind first before you lose it. It appears that 70% of the Tech Blogoshpere has no clue about what they’re talking about most of the time. I’ve already seen some Thermostat/IoT companies begin the warchant “we don’t track your data” (in this case the Allure Energy Eversense). When you think about the data about when you leave/return doesn’t need to cross your WAN. Nest can bleat on about their Algorithms but bluetooth beacons throughout your home would provide a far more accurate picture regarding your movement than the best Algorithms.

      Fadell was smart. Not in his design of a thermostat but in his ability to get the end user to actually pay their money to be tracked.

      My new policy with Tech is simple. If you track my data there better be a nice subsidy on the hardware. In Home Automation there’s very little data that requires external cloud.

      Today “learning” is a euphemism for “we’re tracking your info for datamining” Consumer need to understand that they aren’t buying a product so much as paying to become the product.

  14. Jason Piebes - 9 years ago

    “Innovative” is a word that is so overused there should be permits for people to use it.
    Google has been innovative, no denying that. But purchasing another innovative group is not evidence of their own innovative quality, but quite contrary, evidence of a lack thereof. Google does not have the internal knowledge or talent to create the products so they went and bought a company that can…

    “Disruptive” is another word that is overused by people who really don’t understand it’s meaning and concept. And the way some of these guys talk about it, it’s a real turnoff to be honest. It comes off as listening to Veruka Salt demanding her next consumer gadget. ‘Apple isn’t innovative because they haven’t released a disruptive product in years’… Disruption is something that happens to an industry every few decades, not every few years. Prior to the iPhone and the great ‘disruption’ to the tethered computer industry, the prior disruption was the creation of the personal computer industry! There are industries that have gone without disruption for a century, like the auto industry.

    Isaacson is no different than any of the other shills piling on. There’s no penalty for claiming Apple is sunk when Apple continues to grow. In fact, they use a bunch of propter hoc arguments like this Nest bit to support their poor judgement.

    • South Jersey Droid - 9 years ago

      Just like when Apple purchased the mapping company? Give me a break. Apple steals most of their ideas. LG and Samsung were innovators that caused Apple to steal to develop the iPhone. Look at their designs, which were on sale a year before the iPhone.

      • Brandon Burkett - 9 years ago

        Does bashing the company make you feel better? Stronger? Does it somehow fill the void in your life created by some tragic event that is in some way healed by lashing out at Apple?

        Because, you are not actually engaging in a debate here. You thought, words and actions are clearly hateful and harsh, aimed only at refuting anything anyone has to say that is positive about Apple. I’m sorry you dislike the company, by why waste so much effort to dissuade and refute anything that is said favorably about them?

        …Because I’m afraid that, the only thing you are accomplishing here, in all your diatribe rebukes, is to show the other good folks that use this forum that you are, indeed, a jerk. A civil and critical thinking person would not waste such time of their life in this manner which has absolutely no hope of chaining anyone’s mind.

        Good day :)

  15. winstuff - 9 years ago

    “We ought to see in 2014, Apple do something huge,” Isaacson said.

    So Google whips up dippy headgear that’s costly and more or less unsalable. (Haven’t seen one on either Page or Brin in months. Please post recent links.) Apple probably throws stuff like that out with the garbage every Thursday. It ranks right up there with Bezos’s drone air force for sheer goofiness. But that’s innovation, says Isaacson.

    And it’s Apple that has to come up with something big. Ha. What innovation has Google ever come up with in hardware and sold for a profit? Maybe we need a new coinage: freenovation. That’s things no one would pay for but you can give them away.

    What’s much more interesting is what Google will look like once Brin and Page are out. They run the place on whimsy; they have no accountability to board or business. Whimsy is not a legacy.

    • South Jersey Droid - 9 years ago

      I hope that one day you can make your words actually mean something. This way when you actually form sentences, they will have meaning.

      • Brandon Burkett - 9 years ago

        Disregard my earlier comment to you South. Until I saw this, I thought you had some issue with Apple you just had to get off your chest. Instead, I see you are just out to belittle and bully others for your own insecurities about competitors to the company you seem to see as an idol.

        So, please accept my apology for thinking you had more integrity and tact then you actually own. You are the prime example of why “fan boi’ism” is a daft ideology to subscribe to.

  16. Sam Davis - 9 years ago

    Inside access? I think Jonny and Time had/ have more inside access and the whole Team has decided as Steve Jobs did, that focus is Apple’s plan. Not wifi thermostats. This authors opinion is worthless, plus his book was crappy.

  17. rlowhit - 9 years ago

    Lets hear what Isaacson will have to say about black holes and space time travel. He wrote a book on Einstein he should have expert level knowledge in that area as well.

  18. viktormadarasz - 9 years ago

    These kind of statements are totally useless…Its his point of view based on his opinion.The Market will prove anyway if He was right or wrong…But to be honest..Google is everything I dont want to be involved with…Even if less..I still prefer Apple. Google´s way of handling user data just does not ok with me

    • Nashwan Peter - 9 years ago

      He said all innovation coming out from Google. How?. Google has innovation. However, not everything coming out from Google.

  19. hmurchison - 9 years ago

    Wow. That was a table full of non-Techies trying to talk tech. Isaacson’s comments about the Board are equally laughable. Tim Cook was Steve Jobs CHOSEN successor. That doesn’t mean the Board has to like TC but it certainly doesn’t mean they feel like TC was some sort of adversary to Jobs. Jony Ive and Tim Cook were likely Steve’s most trusted colleagues.

    As far as Nest being a strong entry into owning the home. Couldn’t be further from the truth. Nest’s technology as it stand now is proprietary. They added a Zigbee radio and recently created a SDK and links to Control4 but in all honesty Zigbee likely has 24 months to prove they are viable because the Z-Wave Alliance appears stronger. At CES 2014 both Sigma Designs and Mitsumi Electric are making the SoC and other chips. So Nest at a hardware level doesn’t really support the most popular IoT networking platform in Z Wave.

    Google’s expenditure in Robotics means nothing to me. The stuff they are working on with Boston Robotics is beyond the reach of the average citizen.

    The wearables market is hype right now. It’s basically an industry telling you that that you’re too lazy to pull your $700 phone out of your pocket to get notifications or other bits of data and that you should redundantly have another device on your wrist to charge, maintain and spend $$$$ on. A wearable device needs to offer features that I just can’t do that then it’s utility is marginal.

  20. b9bot - 9 years ago

    And what exactly makes him an expert on who’s more innovative? What innovation has Google brought to the table? Copies of everything Apple. That makes them more innovative like Samsung too?
    I’m sorry writing one book about Steve Jobs doesn’t make him an expert on innovation or anything else for that matter.

  21. Howard Brittain - 9 years ago

    What on earth foes this old fart know about this ? OMG what a joke.

  22. myke2241 - 9 years ago

    idiots on this panel. Google buys way more then they innovate. if you split actual products that google has created from the companies they have purchased it would tell a different story. I’m not fan boying for one the other but the method of creation and product development is in entirely class at apple. i truly think Google has no sense of design. a lot of what they do reminds of MS but only free. and lets not get into how Google uses user data for profit

  23. drtyrell969 - 9 years ago

    If this isn’t blatantly obvious, your knowledge of technology is too low.

  24. Tallest Skil - 9 years ago

    And people wonder why I don’t consider the biography to be an acceptable portrayal…

  25. Samuel Goodger - 9 years ago

    I’m afraid I have to agree with him, Apple has been kind of stale for a while now.

  26. Ocsaif Tiartrop - 9 years ago

    Google isn’t innovative, they just have the money to buy out companies. The only actual products that Google has had oversight of is “Glass” and their Chrome notebook (whose design looks like MacBook). Right now Glass still seems “okay” and years away from being available to the public. Dora the Explorer should be a Glass Explorer to make it happen a bit quicker.

  27. Devin Derrickson - 9 years ago

    Some of you are reading too far into it. We are not talking about the past or the future. Right now, as we speak, Google is more innovative than Apple.

    • Howard Brittain - 9 years ago

      “Some of you are reading too far into it. We are not talking about the past or the future. Right now, as we speak, Google is more innovative than Apple.”

      Still wrong. Firstly you measure innovation by what the company puts out there on the market. Google throws everything out and hopes it will stick. Apple innovate before they throw things out there. Google just feeds on other people’s ideas.

  28. Walter Isaacson - 9 years ago

    Here are some thoughts I had after reading the reactions to my comment:
    — Walter Isaacson

    • Ben Lovejoy - 9 years ago

      Few could argue with that, I think. (Though this is a web forum, so I’m probably wrong …)


Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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