Low Concept

Google and Apple go to war: Google’s first attack.

Google launches Operation GhostFruit.

Larry Page, Google co-founder and CEO speaks during the opening keynote at the Google I/O developers conference.
Larry Page gives the Go command

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As of Oct. 1, 2013 Google has:
Cash on hand:
$54 billion
Territory controlled:
Several large office buildings around the globe, including the GooglePlex in Mountain View, Calif., the third largest office building in New York, and a $1.6 billion new complex in London. In addition, Google maintains more than a dozen huge data centers around the world, with a total computational capacity estimated to be many times more powerful than the world’s best supercomputer.

It’s an unseasonably overcast morning in Mountain View when Larry Page gives the Go command. He does so with a heavy heart. Though the feud with Apple has been escalating for months, Google’s CEO has never given serious consideration to the plan known internally as Operation GhostFruit. Then Apple decided to test him, first by removing Google as the default search engine on the iPhone and iPad, and then—when Google complained to regulators and launched a petition drive calling on Apple to reinstate Google—by blocking Apple devices’ access to Google.com entirely. The iPhone and iPad provide the bulk of Google’s mobile ad revenue. Page has no choice but to go nuclear.

Still, he’s wary of GhostFruit. He understands that it conflicts with everything Google stands for. Indeed, when Sergey Brin first floated the idea, Page wondered if those silly glasses had disoriented his fellow co-founder. GhostFruit calls for a complete, total delisting of Apple and all related results from every Google service. At the flip of a switch, the search page will begin to list the Washington State Apple Commission as the first result for “apple.” People looking for help updating iOS will be asked, “Did you mean IRS?” As GhostFruit’s code penetrates deeper into Google’s servers, it will set up an alternate digital universe in which Apple ceases to exist online. YouTube will censor every Steve Jobs keynote presentation. Image search will delist all photos snapped on iPhones. Gmail will block mail to and from people who use Apple’s devices. Search Maps for “apple store” and you’ll be directed to your local farmer’s market.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

But Page suspects GhostFruit will never be fully realized. Because it would instantly imperil Apple’s worldwide brand recognition—its most important asset—Tim Cook will quickly reconsider his aggression, and the whole feud will be called off. “You really sure you want to do this?” asks Eric Schmidt, the company’s cautious chairman. After a long pause, Page nods, then begins to smile. “I’m feeling lucky,” he says.