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If you’ve paid attention to the ongoing feud between Apple and Google in recent years, you might think that the conflict is the result of Google’s decision to create a competitor to the iPhone after working in tandem with Apple to create the iconic device. And you’d be forgiven for thinking that.

But according to some emails sent by Google’s Sergey Brin back in 2005 that recently surfaced during a class-action lawsuit over the do-not-hire policies of the two companies (among others), that may not be the case. This “thermonuclear war,” as Steve Jobs put it, was a long time coming. Android was just the last straw.

screen shot 2014-03-23 at 9.52.01 amIn one of those emails (above), Brin mentions that “[Jobs] said ‘if you hire a single one of these [Safari engineers] that means war’.” It’s no secret that Jobs often became irate when products failed to meet expectations, but here we see an example of the Apple co-founder ready to declare war on what was, at the time, a friendly company.

The reason? According to another email sent by Brin, Google’s talent acquisition team had contacted a single Apple employee with experience building browsers, apparently to help work on the Chrome project. Jobs accused Google of intentionally poaching members of the Safari team, and the rest is spelled out in Google’s internal emails.

The two companies settled on a “hands-off” hiring policy, which disallowed one company from trying to lure away the other’s employees for higher salaries. This type of agreement wasn’t uncommon among the big players in the technology industry, as noted in a memo that was released alongside the emails.

The damage had been done, however. Two years later Apple would unveil the iPhone, and just one year after that Google would go public with its own competitor. Jobs decided enough was enough, and a rivalry was born.

Oh, and those do-not-hire agreements? Employees of the companies with such arrangements were not as easily placated as their bosses, arguing that because they could no longer receive offers from competitors, they didn’t have the power to bargain with their own employers for higher salaries or pursue more money elsewhere.

After a lawsuit by the Department of Justice settled out of court, employees of the companies involved—including Apple and Google—filed a class-action lawsuit which is still underway.

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21 Responses to “Non-poaching emails show Jobs was warring with Google long before iPhone was launched”

  1. Wow. I suspected this. Oh well, he’s dead now. (okay that sounds bad, but its true)

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  2. Matt Wells says:

    I’d hate to have to manage Google’s email address list.
    Imagine if there was more than one ‘Joan’ working there.

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  3. Most people still don’t get it. Since Apple was born, Bill Gates being close to him, stole his ideas and made Microsoft “windows“, now Windows it’s out of the equation.

    Later Adobe bought Macromedia, Adobe grew up thanks to Apple, then they tried to force Apple to adopt the insecure “Flash” software. Again Jobs pissed off and recommend HTML, now Adobe is it’s way down.

    Same story with Google. It’s hilarious, most people don’t even ask themselves: why a company spent millions in servers, employees, etc? Just to give me free software? Nope, to steal your identity and sold for advertising. But they knew that business model will decline over the years to come.

    Then, started to mess with Apple, like Samsung did and does. So, it seems companies don’t understand Apple yet. Simple, do your own original hardware and software. Even without Jobs, don’t mess with Apple and “do your own business”.

    Now you may guess what will happen to Google in 5 years.

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  4. rogifan says:

    Would this have happened under Tim Cook? My guess is not.

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  5. there is no greatness without a war!

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  6. Not keen on saying this on a public forum, but it’s the truth: My own direct tangible experience (this can be verified) is that Google employ highly unethical and dubious methods to attract and retain employees. The whole company is staffed by people from top to bottom who lack empathy, unlike Apple that is an ‘old school’ business, hence superb quality of staff at their Apple Stores. I visited Google I/O and there was no one to talk to or who had any social skills to engage with and do business with. (I did get a free T-Shirt and the free food was superb.)

    I visited the Google area (Chromebooks etc) at one of the UK’s PC World stores, and the ‘rep’ they had on hand was disinterested, distant and whilst not rude, just useless. What a contrast to Apple Stores!

    This is also why Google had no compunction against including people, license plates and more in their early Streetview imagery, not to mention grabbing WiFi hotspot details. This is what happens when young people run a business, they have yet to become ethical, as made clear in Lord Of The Flies. They ARE the law!

    What I observed or experienced with regards to Google’s staff recruitment process proved that they have a business policy little different to the use of Napalm during Vietnam.

    Jobs was right to go Thermonuclear. You fight fire with more fire!

    Let me be clear, I am neutral in the platform wars, and currently use a Note 3 phone – but typing this on a fully specced MacBook Pro 15″ Retina. I buy what works.

    Poaching people is fine, you just have to do it in a manner that is ethical.

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    • Brian Victor says:

      An interesting insight. Curious though: Steve and Steve were quite young and I get the impression from the bios I have watched that they sometimes did some very unethical sales (in the same vein of “you’re not holding it right.” Just goes to show no one is perfect: we all do harm at some point. While I am not defending the overall character of Google, I will say that I don’t see how including people and license pltes in Streetview is unethical: if I can be seen, then I am in the public domain. Why should I complain if my picture is taken by a random roving camera? We don’t get up in arms about News camera crews shooting clips of the traffic.

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      • Different cultures see things… differently. Here in the UK for example, despite CCTV being everywhere, we actually have the legal right to request our likeness be obscured in any images/videos we may happen to be present in unless we’ve committed a crime and it can be used as evidence against us.

        It’s common courtesy to ask someone permission if taking images of them even in a crowd in public, especially if those images are going to be accessible world wide by anybody with an internet connection and a browser capable of showing them.

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  7. Do not hire agreements between companies (poaching, etc) are complete BS. You should be allowed to work wherever you want, a company should not “own” you — what is this, Soviet Russia?

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  8. Spy Tronix says:

    Both are great men and pioneers. Where would we be without their persistence, creativity, and ideas?

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