Fadell was best known, before he moved into WiFi-connected appliances, for running Apple's (AAPL) iPod division. So last week's news naturally led to a conversation about Apple and Google and what -- at its core -- each company is about. (Our initial take: Why Google, not Apple, bought Nest.)
The remark that got the most play in the media was probably the least considered. Steve Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson, pressed on CNBC Thursday morning to comment on the two big news events of the week -- the iPhone's launch on China Mobile and Google's purchase of Nest -- casually remarked that "the greatest innovation in the world today right now" is coming not from Apple but from Google. That did not sit well with Apple aficionados. Headline on MacDailyNews: "Scribe of flavorless Steve Jobs biography thinks Google is 'more innovative' than Apple because Google bought a thermostat company."
On Friday's Accidental Tech Podcast John Siracusa offered what may be the most apocalyptic view. The risk, he said, is not that Google will do something more evil with data from inside your home than it does now with all the information it's already collected from your gmail, your Android phone, your Google searches, your taste in YouTube videos etc. The real danger, he said, comes when the information about you in Google's servers eventually, inevitably, falls into the hands of actual evil doers.
But the most thoughtful commentary came, as it often does, from Asymco's Horace Dediu.
Dediu, a student of Clayton Christensen's disruption theory, is always looking for the "why" of a company -- its business model, its values, its guiding principles. Google is a tough nut to crack because its stated principle -- "don't do evil" -- is too vague to be of any use, and its business model -- selling advertising -- is largely disconnected from what it is known for: Providing valuable Internet services for free.
For a lot of people, Dediu writes, Google is the Internet.
"We don't question the survival of the Internet so we don't question the survival of Google — its backbone, its index, and its pervasive ads which, somehow, keep the lights on. We believe Google is infrastructure. We don't dwell on whether electric grids are vulnerable, or supplies of fuel, or the weather(!)"
Apple, in contrast, is always seen by Wall Street as "temporarily enjoying a stay of execution." There is no "Google death knell counter," he writes, as there is for Apple. There is no "Google is doomed" trope.
"If an executive from Google quits or is fired there is no investor panic. If a product is withdrawn there is no mourning. There are no journalists pursuing Pulitzer prizes by describing some seamy underside of Google."
Google, he writes, is viewed as a system, owned and run as a public good by a benevolent triumvirate (Larry Page, Sergei Brin, Eric Schmidt). Apple might also be viewed as a system -- as a perpetual disruption machine, perhaps -- but that's not the conventional wisdom.
"Because [Apple is] not a system," Dediu concludes, "it's fragile. It's a person, or an idea, or a product or a singular 'key' to something. It is, ultimately, mortal. The only debate is when it will die and points are earned for calling it sooner rather than later.
"But what if Apple were a system? And what if Google were a person (or three?)"
Now those aren't questions likely to get asked -- or answered -- on CNBC.
UPDATE: Dediu dives even deeper into Google's raison d'être in Wednesday's Critical Path podcast: Episode 109: Google Ventures.
Or at least the fact-checking part. It's an editorial experiment that could still go off the rails.
FORTUNE -- Walter Isaacson's biography of Apple's (AAPL) Steve Jobs was enjoying its sixth week at No. 1 on the New York Times' hardcover nonfiction bestseller list in December 2011 when Fortune's Adam Lashinsky asked him what he was going to do next.
The author of biographies of Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein told the audience MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Dec 30, 2013 9:33 AM ET
Three journalism heavyweights weigh in.
By Kurt Wagner, reporter
FORTUNE -- In the mid-1990s, former Time Magazine editor Walter Isaacson committed what he now calls "the original sin." As the World Wide Web started to take off, Isaacson contemplated charging a small fee for readers to enjoy his publication's content online. "Instead, young advertising executives from Madison Avenue came rushing across Fifth Avenue to the Time and Life Building with bags MOREJul 24, 2013 7:56 PM ET
On July 24, Fortune hosted a panel at its Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo. on the future of journalism with Harvard Shorenstein fellow John Huey, Columbia Journalism professor Martin Nisenholtz, Akamai Technologies executive chairman Paul Sagan, and The Aspen Institute's Walter Isaacson. Below is an unedited transcript of the conversation.
JESSI HEMPEL: So now we are thrilled to have returned to Aspen again for Brainstorm TECH this year, it's only MOREJul 24, 2013 3:59 PM ET
If you didn't already know about the Smithsonian's exhibit, you'd never find it
FORTUNE -- First you have to find which of the Smithsonian's 19 museums houses the Steve Jobs' exhibit that opened last week -- not an easy task for someone unfamiliar with the monumental geography of Washington D.C.
Then, once you locate the Ripley Center -- a tiny circular building, just to the right of the Institute's big red castle -- MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 20, 2012 6:08 PM ET
Apple's CEO left the master of dysfunctional relationships a lot of material to work with
FORTUNE -- Viewers who have followed Aaron Sorkin's TV and film work over the years were delighted to learn Tuesday that one of Hollywood's most gifted screenwriters has officially signed on to adapt Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs for Sony Pictures' (SNE) film.
Sorkin is the master of romantic relationships that are painfully, hilariously dysfunctional. The MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 16, 2012 11:35 AM ET
If it gets its way, the jury will hear no talk of Apple waging thermonuclear war on Android
FORTUNE -- FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller has been reading through the motions Apple (AAPL) and Samsung filed in advance of their upcoming patent trial in the Northern District of California and has come across a few interesting tidbits.
Both sides want to exclude some of the things that have been written about them.
Samsung doesn't want MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - May 1, 2012 10:53 AM ET
The star of Twitter and TV sitcoms is doing a quick indie film, not the Sony biopic
The blogosphere lit up Sunday night with the news that Ashton Kutcher, star of Twitter and TV Sitcoms (That 70s Show, Two and a Half Men), had been signed to play the title role in Jobs, a film being described as the story of Steve Jobs' transformation from "wayward hippie" to co-founder of Apple MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Apr 2, 2012 5:47 AM ET
If you're in L.A. Thursday or Friday, join us at the Apple Investors Summit
We'll be speaking, along with Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson, Apple (AAPL) co-founder Steve Wozniak, Fortune's Adam Lashinsky, Asymco's Horace Dediu, Bullish Cross's Andy Zaky, Posts at Eventide's Robert Paul Leitau, AAPLPain's Travis Lewis, The Street's Jason Schwarz and many more.
To register, click here.Philip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 14, 2012 5:07 AM ET
A closer look at the deal Steve Jobs offered the publishers suggests a way out
When regulators -- first at the European Commission, then last week at the U.S. Department of Justine -- alerted Apple (AAPL) and five major book publishers that they faced antitrust suits for alleged collusion to raise e-book prices, some of the sharpest negotiators in business started looking for a way to settle.
But how to do it?
Going MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 12, 2012 10:44 AM ET
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