Steve Jobs may not be rolling in his grave, but he's probably shaking his fist.
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), the company he promised to go to "thermonuclear war" with for stealing the iPhone, looks poised to poach yet another brilliant idea. Reports have emerged that the search giant is plotting its own ride-hailing service to compete with Uber, the start-up valued north of $40 billion in which Google is a major investor.
Under normal circumstances this would be big news, but the move is particularly backstabbing because a Google exec sits on Uber's board. David Drummond, Google's Chief Legal Officer, has been a director at Uber since 2013, and recently informed the rest of the board that his company is working on a ride-hailing app that would directly compete with Uber. Uber executives have seen screenshots of a ride-sharing app used by Google employees, according to a report by Bloomberg, and the board is considering whether to ask Drummond to resign.
Google's new ride-hailing app would be a companion and a logical extension of its ambitions to create a self-driving car. Looking ahead with this vision, we could all one day order self-driving taxis with our smartphones. Notably, Uber on Monday also announced a partnership with Carnegie Mellon to work on self-driving technology.
Whereas Uber and Google have worked closely together, and Uber is featured on Google Maps, the move smacks of the same kind of thievery the search giant pulled off with the iPhone -- Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) invention that has become arguably the most successful branded product in history. And while Uber may not be the next iPhone, it's certainly one of the most revolutionary business ideas of the decade. So with that in mind, let's take a closer look at the similarities here.
Fool me once
Apple never went to thermonuclear war over Android, but it did go to legal war, suing Samsung, the biggest Android user, for patent infringement. Former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, sat on Apple's board from 2006 until 2009, when he was forced to resign. Apple's iPhone came out in 2007, and the Android emerged a year later. The details are murky, and Schmidt has denied any wrongdoing, but he would have had access to proprietary and privileged information that could have aided and assisted Android's development. The similarities in design would appear to indicate Android was at least somewhere between borrowing and stealing.
Of course, Uber is a different animal. Its genius is more in the concept and execution rather than in the technology and creativity like the iPhone. Uber already has competitors, such as Lyft and Gett, but Google is in a different weight class from any other foes the company has faced thus far.
Uber is a private company so we don't know how much they're making, but much like the iPhone's story, Uber's early success in disrupting an industry has been quite impressive. Unlike traditional taxi companies, Uber does not need to pay for drivers or cars, it simply needs to provide the platform. The model is also highly scalable as revenues were projected to grow 300% last year. Some analysts project the company to bring in $10 billion in revenue this year, and at a valuation around $40 billion, the company would be the year's biggest IPO if it decided to go public.
Given Google's dominance in maps and general information, It's not a surprise that it would want a piece of this pie. For all the company's success though -- it's the world's most trafficked website with a market of $360 billion and profits of $15 billion -- the company is essentially a one-trick pony, relying on advertising, primarily through Adwords, for nearly all its revenue. At times, the company feels more like a glorified science fair attached to a giant cash cow of a search engine. Among its many projects that seem to have fizzled out are Google Glass, a gas-guzzling jetpack, and a hoverboard.
Meanwhile, Google has a history of copying many other Internet companies, including Yelp, Groupon, Microsoft, and Facebook, often without much success. The initiative into ride-sharing makes sense for Google, especially if the self-driving car dream ever comes true, but its track record in aping other companies has been a poor one, which is good news for Uber. Still, if I had a Google employee on my board right now, I would be thinking twice about keeping him there.