Google’s Eric Schmidt: ‘It’s Very Easy to Criticize a Company That You’re Not In’

Google’s executive chairman expressed the headline’s sentiment during a discussion with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher of All Things D at New York’s 92 Y yesterday evening. Schmidt’s comments varied from scripted to candid when discussing his Silicon Valley competitors and Google’s innovative products such as driverless cars.(Google’s Street Views Car, pictured at left, is currently on display at Mountain View’s Computer History Museum)

Schmidt leveled his harshest criticism at Microsoft, a company he excludes from his list of four major industry players (Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook). He said, “They’re well-funded, but they haven’t been able to bring out state-of-the-art products in key areas. Let’s see what their new set of products does.”

Yet Schmidt sympathized with HP‘s recent struggles, describing his friend Meg Whitman as a “capable CEO.” He noted, while enterprise businesses once had lots of time develop various strategies, they’re now under considerably more pressure to find solutions to pressing problems as quickly as possible.

Schmidt also cut Facebook some slack, saying that “with a billion users, they can find ways to make money.” While acknowledging Facebook’s enormous database of registered users, he also pointedly noted, “Google wants more registered users, but we’re not forcing customers to sign up.”

Schmidt also lauded Twitter for doing “an excellent job of celebrity branding” while referring to the many stars who have used the platform to expand their followings and expressed hope that Google+ might one day become a key competitor.

Despite Schmidt’s widely quoted critiques about Apple’s inferior iPhone maps, he saved his highest praise for his main rival. “Apple did a phenomenal job of building integrated solutions and they did a tremendous job with tablets.” He also emphasized that Apple has more cash. He said that Apple “still has a special place in his heart”, which makes sense–Schmidt once served on Apple’s Board and had a close personal relationship with Steve Jobs.

Innovation is another area Schmidt is especially fond of. He said “the world needs more innovation, not more copycat products” and credited Google for coming up with a range of inventive offers. Schmidt also practiced some self-deprecation, acknowledging that “We’ve had our share of products that failed and noting that, when he speaks with company CEO Sergey Brin, he’s not always sure whether his colleague is serious or joking about new product ideas.

One of Google’s most interesting innovations is the driverless car. Schmidt said that “Computers can drive cars more safely [than man] once the bugs are worked out.” Still, he had something of a mixed response to the automated driving experience. In Schmidt’s words, “…it’s better to think of it as auto pilot. I’ve been driven by the driverless car and it’s a life-changing experience. I drove around a race course and I was white when I got out.” He pointed out that there’s a large red disconnect button to be used if needed. (Like a Staples “Easy” button reserved for emergencies.) We can’t imagine driverless cars taking over American roads any time soon, but they are intriguing to say the least.

In case you were wondering, the event wasn’t all business. At the end of the night, Kara Swisher turned to Schmidt in a light-hearted moment and said, “By the way, I’ve got to tell you that you rock in that pumpkin [colored] sweater!”