The Jobs-Schmidt meeting: Who called whom?

Apple's Steve Jobs and Google's Eric Schmidt meet for coffee. And the interpretations start flying. What might be the real explanation for their strangely public meeting?

Do people ever meet for coffee intending to just, well, drink coffee? Of course not. So the tech world, aka the whole world, trembled with titillated tension at the mere idea that Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Google CEO Eric Schmidt sat across from each other in some sort of upscale shopping mall and shot the breeze.

Indeed, it was interesting that they chose to sit in the breeze, as surely both would have known that this would make them a little more visible to nerdy passers-by with cameras on their phones and the world's new-found lack of privacy on their minds.

It's touching to read a body-language expert describe Schmidt as being scared of Jobs and Jobs as being mistrustful of Schmidt. But, as with all relationships that seem to have started so well and gone sour, the most fascinating question isn't "what did they talk about?" It is: "who called whom?"

You might think this a triviality. But in any relationship there is always a power dynamic. When it comes to men who wield power on a daily basis, that power dynamic has more dimensions than Arnold Schwarzenegger's head. So who might have been the one who decided the ice (and, who knows, the bread) should be broken? Whose need for fraternity, if not solidarity, was greatest here?

So beautifully stage-managed. Especially with the cinema verite camera work.

Should we be of the belief that Schmidt, still in the thrall of the great Apple CEO, had been constantly calling the man whom he'd upset with his new cell phone?

Should we imagine that he'd been constantly leaving ever more desperate voicemails saying: "Steve. Look, I'm sorry about that Nexus One thing. It meant nothing. Really. Nothing. It was just a fling. Look, no one's buying it. Um, I still admire you so much. Really. I admire you more than ever, in fact. I revere you more than Larry and Sergei do. The iPad will be the next, next, great, very great thing. Please let me buy you a coffee. Please."?

Or, in a radically different interpretation of the world's turning, might Jobs have picked up his iPhone and, in something of a loud voice, declared: "Schmidt. Get your fat backside down to that coffee shop in the mall! Ten minutes or you're fired!"?

There is, of course, a third possibility. It's the one that I, in my strange, cloud-based world hope is the closest to the truth. It begins with a phone call from Jobs' personal assistant to Schmidt's.

"I can't take it any more," says Jobs' assistant. "He's sitting in his office. He's just thrown his iPhone against the wall and it's impaled in one of those platinum albums that Dylan gave him. And he just keeps screaming 'Schmidt!', 'Schmidt!', "Schmidt!" At least I think it's 'Schmidt' he's screaming."

"Oh, no," replies Schmidt's assistant. "My boss has been sulking for weeks. Every time I walk into his office, he won't say anything and his glasses keep steaming up. He won't even tell me who he's dating these days. And he's ALWAYS telling me things like that. He's very open. We have to do something about this."

"You're right," replies Jobs' assistant. "Someone has to sit these silly men down together. I mean, it's not as if they have the future of the world in their hands, is it? It's just gadgets and advertising, isn't it? So let them talk it out. Well, let my boss begin to talk and when he's talked out, it'll be your boss' turn."

"Let's tell my boss that there's someone really big from Facebook who wants to defect to Google and wants to meet at that coffee shop in the mall," suggests Schmidt's assistant.

"OK," says Jobs' assistant with enthusiasm. "And I'll tell my boss that Bono wants a chat about investment strategy and doesn't want anyone to know. I mean, Palm and Move.com. What was he thinking?"

"I know. Geez, you'd think these guys would know something, wouldn't you? My money's secretly in Foursquare," says Schmidt's exasperated assistant. "So listen, what are you going to do about the iPad shortage?"

"Oh, you know, the usual keeping-Apple-in-the-news stuff. Simon Cowell gave me a couple of good pointers over lunch last week. I've got it all organized," says Jobs' assistant.

"One more thing," says Schmidt's assistant. "Is your little brother, the one with the squint, going to take a picture of our bosses having a coffee with that iPhone 4G you got for him?"

"You read my mind," says Jobs' assistant.

"So we're good for that dinner at the French Laundry on Wednesday?" says Schmidt's assistant.

"Of course, darling," says Jobs' assistant. "And it's your turn to pay."

 

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