How much do Apple, Google, and Amazon know about each others’ projects?

This question originally appeared on Quora: How Much Do Apple, Google And Amazon Know What Each Other Is Working On? Answer by Jonathan Brill, startup sales specialist.

A little over two years ago I was working with Apple, Google, and Amazon on large-scale systems projects that would precede acquisitions, new product development, and major organizational changes regarding the Internet of Things. There are some things everybody knew about, but the major milestones were effectively kept secret, and key counterparts at the other companies had no real clue.

Two examples:

Apple introduced HomeKit, their Internet of Things framework. There was a very fast ramp from concept to beta to public announcement, but during that period literally hundreds of non-Apple employees knew about this (albeit under a different name). This included software platform vendors (of which I was one), hardware vendors (mostly chip guys), and a small number of consumer electronics companies. Most of these companies were also working closely with Apple competitors (not just Google and Amazon) and by the nature of the work we were doing, had to have conversations about the project when Apple wasn’t in the room.

Despite really aggressive and buttoned-down confidentiality agreements and Apple’s trademark culture of “Not Speaking To Anybody About Anything Ever At All,” I’m positive that counterparts at Amazon and Google were aware that a) Apple was developing the system, b) roughly which other companies were involved, c) when it was coming out, and d) primary functionality. If someone only knew which chip vendors were involved and which platform vendor was in the mix, which Amazon and Google would have, you’d have known all those things. For systems like this, secrets are just not realistic.

Google acquired Nest. When Google acquired Nest, I’m sure there were some people at Apple who knew this was either a possibility or definitely going to happen, but I was working with a dozen people on the retail side who it directly affected and they had no idea. They all found out the same way I did.

The Nest acquisition put Apple in a really tough spot because the product was so closely associated with their brand. After all, Nest founder and CEO Tony Fadell came from Apple; Apple sold more Nest thermostats than anybody; the design was obviously reminiscent of Apple’s design ethos, etc.

More problematic than that, however, Nest delivered for Google what Apple desperately needed: an IoT infrastructure in a box with a million units of distribution already in the bank. That put Apple in a spot that might yet prove irrecoverable, and the people I was working with at Apple (who were influential to conceive of and build out HomeKit) never knew.

Some projects and decisions can be confined to a few people, but anything requiring a lot of work outside of a small group or people outside of the company, such as vendors or partners, will be the worst kept secret in the world.

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