Lessons from Marcia Brady: why Eric Schmidt should resign from Apple's board

Sang Tang
S. Tang|07.11.09

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Lessons from Marcia Brady: why Eric Schmidt should resign from Apple's board
One of my favorite episodes of The Brady Bunch is "Quarterback Sneak." In it, Marcia starts dating Jerry Rogers, quarterback of the Fairview High School football team. Problem is, Fairview happens to be the rival of Marcia & Greg's Westdale High School, and the two teams are scheduled to play in their annual big game on Saturday.

Marcia may not see it (Marcia, Marcia, Marcia never seems to), but it's fairly apparent that Jerry Rogers isn't as concerned about winning Marcia's heart as he is about winning the big game against Westdale.

But Marcia has to find this out the hard way, as she always does. The story unfolds in an oh-so-predictable sitcom television manner:
Marcia invites Jerry in for a drink of lemonade.
While Marcia is preparing the lemonade, Jerry snoops around and takes a look at the Westdale playbook, which happens to be on the coffee table.
Bobby, who just got flattened by the teeter totter outside, sees that Jerry is up to no good. Marcia sees none of this. She's too busy preparing lemonade.
Bobby and Greg confront Marcia about Jerry's evil, no good do-er ways; Marcia, being Marcia, is obviously in a state of denial and dares Bobby and Greg to prove her wrong. And they did.

On their next lemonade date, Marcia sees that Jerry, indeed, could not resist swiping the Westdale playbook. Needless to say, Marcia's crushed.

With Google announcing its intention to develop the Chrome OS, Apple has a Jerry Rogers-like situation right now with Google CEO Eric Schmidt sitting on its board of directors. Although Schmidt says there's "no issue" at the moment, the best situation for both parties would be one in which Schmidt relieved himself of his duties on Apple's board of directors.
It was a different world when Schmidt joined the Apple board in August 2006. It'd be safe to say that Jerry Rogers wasn't even playing on any high school team. Back then, Apple was only part of the way through its Intel transition, and Apple engineers were still melting the keyboards off the faces of smartphones to bring us what is now known as the iPhone. There were two real "legs" to the chair of Apple's business: the iPod and the Mac.

The iPhone, as we would come to find out, represented a revolution in wireless telecommunications. It shifted the power from carrier to manufacturer, and not only upset the smartphone space -- it redefined it.

Toward the middle of the first generation iPhone's life cycle, Google unveiled Android, a Linux-based mobile operating system that would serve as a platform for the Open Handset Alliance -- a consortium of companies that now includes the likes of HTC, Samsung and Sony Ericsson. Jerry is now on Fairview's junior varsity basketball team, and Greg is on the main squad for Westfield.

Initial demos of Android showcased a touchscreen interface with gestures and features similar to that of the iPhone, and this naturally begged raised the question of the potential conflict(s) of interest in Schmidt's dual role. As a result, Schmidt regularly recuses himself from Apple board meetings that involve the iPhone and iPhone-related product strategy.

Earlier this week, Google announced its intention to build an operating system aimed at the Netbook market. Jerry Rogers is now playing both basketball and football, although still for the JV squad. And this brings Google, and Schmidt with it, that much closer to stepping on the toes of Mac OS X. While Google states that the Chrome OS will initially target the netbook market, it will evolve later to run on desktop and full-size notebook platforms. If Schmidt recuses himself from Mac OS X-related meetings, then there probably wouldn't be any meetings left for him to attend.

Now it's no secret that the consumer tech market is ultra-competitive, and that keeping technological developments and ideas under wraps is the modus operandi of many tech companies. While Eric Schmidt probably is a person of upstanding morals and values, his presence on the board brings with it conflicts that are now irreconcilable and could potentially weaken the legs of Apple's product chair. If you're competing with the iPhone, and competing with Mac OS X, you're a competitor, not a collaborator.

Readers, sound off. Do you think Eric Schmidt should stay on Apple's board?
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