Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Larry Page Might Be Bill Gates+, But He Wants to Be Steve Jobs

Let’s face it: Everyone in Silicon Valley — one way or another — fashions themselves as the next Steve Jobs.

And why not? Both the professional and even personal story of the legendary Apple CEO — which will be chronicled in November in a major book — are the stuff of tech legend and envy: Iconic, in charge, decisive, elegant, innovative, phoenix-like and visionary.

And, of course, more than just a little bit terrifying.

So why not Larry Page, too, and why not now?

One issue: By temperament and action — by which I mean genetically hyper-competitive and hammer-time aggressive — he’s been more like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, who has been the Yin to Jobs’ Yang in their deeply interconnected careers over the last decades.

As I wrote before Page took over again as Google’s CEO earlier this year:

After our first interview in 2001, my notes on the encounter had this one line underlined and in all caps:

    LARRY PAGE=BILL GATES.

It was not meant as an insult, but I can tell you I never wrote such a note about Page’s co-founder, the jokey and affable Sergey Brin.

Even then, Gates had a fearsome reputation as a manically competitive exec, a cutting manner to those not as smart as he clearly is and a reputation as a very tough and often eviscerating boss. (And all that was also my experience whenever I was interviewing him.)

While much wonkier, friendlier and more of a sensitive new-aged male, Page, it seemed to me, had the exact same obvious drive and aggression as Gates.

The latest incarnation of that has been Page’s move — bold for now and we’ll-see later — to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, which Google announced yesterday.

By all accounts, Page was the key driver of the deal inside Google, where he now reigns firmly.

Although neither Gates nor Jobs has used acquisitions much as a key weapon in their arsenals, the size and scope of the deal is pure Gates: A focused, overwhelming and competitor-scaring display of might that speaks of industry dominance and play-to-destroy aspirations, masking what is also very reactive.

If Page’s doubling down on mobile reminds you a bit of Gates’s “Internet Tidal Wave” memorandum in 1995, that’s because the move-now tone is the same.

And, also, in that it is more than just a little bit sneaky. Case in point: Google’s yammering on about the importance of Motorola’s patents in the deal. While the patent love is true and an important element, bolstering Google’s own weak portfolio, it’s also a bit of a feint by the search giant, which can simply never come out and say what it is actually up to.

Which is to be the dominant and overwhelming player in the mobile market that Google sees as critical to its future.

“The company obviously wants everyone to focus on the patents, but its ambitions are so much larger in mobile,” said one person close to the situation. “So it underplays as it overplays.”

Indeed, in the time I covered Google, it has always been my experience when the search giant insists stringently on one thing, Page and others are playing a more complex version of “Star Trek” three-dimensional chess.

As the New York Times’ DealBook noted correctly:

If there’s any question about Google’s motivation to own a handset maker rather than just a portfolio of patents, consider this: InterDigital, a licensing company that owns some 8,000 wireless patents and has another 10,000 patent applications being processed, has been up for auction. Many industry insiders were sure that if Google were serious about acquiring a portfolio of patents, InterDigital would be its target. The company’s market value is only about $3 billion and it doesn’t come with all the baggage of Motorola’s handset business.

That’s exactly right, because Page’s ambition is about Google playing a big part in the mobile market — which is humanity’s next critical platform in computing — for its interlocked ecosystem of Google products — from its flagship search to social networking via Google+ to Gmail to its latest Google Wallet initiative to Google Maps to Google Voice.

In other words, it’s a Google world and we all just live in it.

At the heart of it is a desire to make and completely control the object at the center of the virtuous circle: The mobile device, whether it be a smartphone, tablet or whatever doodad you might wear around your neck.

In fact, as I also remember from Google’s earliest days, Page did sport a lot of such contraptions back then, such as a communicator of some sort he once joyfully showed off to me that allowed him to reach Brin quickly. Later, it was a kind of pollution sensor that took its place.

My recollection from that time was that Page adored such objects, visibly inspired by the idea of digital devices that delivered a myriad of helpful and smart services to users as they moved around the world.

You know, like an Apple iPhone, the ground-breaking technical achievement that Jobs rendered unto the world less than a decade ago, changing everything.

With Android and Page’s firm backing, Google quickly and smartly jumped partway into that market with its powerful and fast-growing mobile operating system.

Now, like Jobs, I have no doubt Page wants to own and control the whole value chain to solidify what Google started several years ago and which is its best hope to vault into the next era of computing.

It’s a leap that Gates and Microsoft largely failed at, not for lack of trying — something else Page has to have taken note of.

So, perhaps by making things — maybe even beautiful things like Jobs — Page will transform himself from a Gates into a Jobs.

Or, more likely, a little bit of both.

Until that reckoning, here is a terrific video of Spock playing 3D chess with Captain James T. Kirk — and, yes, he does look freakishly like Page here:

Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google