Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has a big role - some say, the biggest role - in getting the company to $50 billion in revenue. Schmidt joined Google in 2001 as CEO. Over the next decade, he made the right bets as the Internet grew, attracted top talent and took Google public. In 2011, he made way for Larry Page as CEO. On a recent trip to India, his first since he joined the company, Schmidt spoke with Business Today on the India business, the evolution of local language search, and the Steve Jobs he knew. Edited excerpts:
Q. Was there a moment or two in the last 10-11 years when you thought search could change the world in a way you never thought before?
A. I don't think I understood how powerful information was until I began to see the use of Google in popular media. YouTube was a partner in the 2008 elections with CNN, and I went to this debate. I was really surprised by the arrival of technology in mainstream. Today, we take it for granted… Google's aspiration is to be your assistant, to know what you don't know and to get that information to you in whatever way is quickest, whatever technology will allow, and I think it is very powerful.
Q. Some industries think Google's intention is to be the master…
A.Google is careful to define its mission as a ranker-organiser and not as a judge. We don't want to restrict information. We want to give you more choices and then you choose.
Q. Considering India is probably the third-largest Internet user base, will be second in twothree years…
A. It's going to be amazing. Just do the math.
Q. The fact that there are so many languages act as a barrier or challenge, and then there is literacy…
A. Literacy is very easily solved by mobile phones. Give phones to someone and they will learn to read, because you have all the software on it... And the language issues, our machine translation technology is getting so good that it should be possible to do 100 per cent high-quality language transfer from all 26 languages, not now, but over time. I understand the language thing is very, very real. There is no unified language here in India. I also understand that not everyone speaks English… The translation technology is at a point where you speak in one language, and the translation comes out in some other language. It is just getting better.
Q. Do you see voice as an enabler?
A. We would argue that Google's voice analysis software is the best in the world, better than (Apple's) Siri and so forth. Google Glass is controlled by voice, you talk to it, (and) it is able to recognise it. Voice and image recognition will be more important for languages that do not have very good keyboard solutions. So Google and some other companies are working on image recognition on dialects and some of these solutions.
Q. Do you see in two-three years, a non-English speaking Indian speaking to a Google phone?
A. Sure. And again I am assuming the language will be in the majority order. It will start with Hindi, and then move down the stack, and the 26th language will be the last.
Q. What does that mean for the business model of Google or any other search company if the market expands to that extent?
'Voice and image recognition will be more important for languages' Photo Vivan Mehra/www.indiatodayimages.com
Our model is that we benefit with more users and more broadband. So narrowband users do not use Google as much as broadband (users). Broadband users click on the ads more, they consume more and the model works better. In India, there are a lot of issues - e-commerce, distribution - but all those problems are going to get solved. Our revenue is growing quite well. I won't say the number, but it is one of the highest growing countries right now. So we know that the revenue potential in India is great, and we are investing heavily here. So don't feel sorry for us, we are doing just fine. We will find ways to monetise a large audience. If you have a billion Indians, you can make money.Q. How is social media changing search? If Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest are not in Google search, how will it affect Google?
There is no monopoly on this kind of information. I think Facebook is going to do fine, Twitter is going to do fine, Pintrest is going to do fine. It is good to have competition. Google Plus is big enough. We get all the social signals we need. We do not need all the social signals; you just need to have some. Google Plus is clearly big enough to be a viable competitor to Facebook.
Q. You sat on the Apple board for some years. What was so distinct about it?
There was no better product visionary in the world than Steve Jobs, in the choice of the unification of user experience, power, colour, style… I think his impact on society and the world will be historical. There are people you meet in life who are bigger and better than anyone else, and in Steve's case it was because of his unique ability to build and run things and understand the technology and also add the design component that was unconventional. And today when you look at the product you see Steve, you look at the storage you see Steve, you look at the brand you see Steve. That was his genius - certainly not a perfect man, but a great one.Q. From an advertisement point of view broadcast is the big market to crack. When do you see the market being disrupted the way other legacy media was in the past?
Television has withstood many critics of it, and it is regulated, but it is highly popular with very high market share. I think you will see more and more multi-modal things, more and more stuff done on YouTube and then brought to TV, and vice-versa. And then there will be an economic disruption just because of pricing, because prices are high, but I think television will be there for long.
Q. When you meet the big content generators, what is it that you tell them?
I think the obnoxious way to answer that question is say, "You need some engineers to build the platforms". It won't happen from marketing plans, and lawyers and legal plans, lawsuits and so forth, which have become a problem. The smartest people are building new kind of platforms with partners, offering editing, and so forth and they are just dealing with the reality. They are trying to figure out new markets and they are trying to monetise them... The fact of the matter is there are tablets that you can charge on - people will be consuming information on tablets… You should figure out a way to work with us and our competitors to understand how to put the information. It is your future, because your customers are moving to this new platform.
Q. Every big tech company is making the "next big bet." What is Google's bet on?
Our bet is on innovation. We will innovate at the same pace, if not faster. The market is big enough for everyone.
Q. What will be your epitaph?
He used Google to beat death and he failed.