Google steals innovation crown from Apple: Isaacson

iPhones begin selling at China Mobile on Friday
iPhones begin selling at China Mobile on Friday

The greatest innovator in the world right now is Google—not Apple, said Walter Isaacson, author of the best-selling biography "Steve Jobs."

Case in point—he told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday: Google buying Nest Labs is a bigger development than Apple selling iPhones on China Mobile's network.

While acknowledging the China Mobile partnership is a "big deal" for Apple, he said Google-Nest exemplifies the "amazingly strong integrated strategy that Google has to connect all of our devices, all of our lives, from our car, to our navigation system, to how our garage doors are going to open."

(Read more: Tim Cook to CNBC: Apple-China Mobile deal a 'watershed' moment)

The Nest portfolio of smart thermostats and fire detectors will be added to Google's gee-whiz tool shed of giant robots, self-driving cars and Google Glass.

Isaacson also pointed out that Nest co-founder and CEO Tony Fadell will be joining Google as part of this deal. "Fadell was one of the team that created the iPod. He was very deep into the Apple culture ... when Apple was so innovative."

To play catch-up, Cook has to think about what industry he wants to disrupt next, Isaacson said. "I think Steve Jobs would have wanted as the next disruptive thing to either have wearable-like watches or TV, an easy TV that you can walk into the room and say put on 'Squawk Box' … or disrupt the digital camera industry or disrupt textbooks."

"We ought to see in 2014, Apple do something huge," Isaacson said.

Apple's appealing growth story in China
Apple's appealing growth story in China

Daniel Ernst, principal at tech-focused Hudson Square Research, agreed: "For the last two years, Cook continues to hint … there are things we do that we have expertise in that would lend itself to other categories that we're not in."

"Let's give them the whole calendar year," Ernst said. "But I think that the unanimous answer among Apple investors is that this better be the year. There's only so long the boy can cry wolf."

Cook also needs to fully seize the company, Isaacson said. "In the late February shareholders meeting, they probably have to start thinking about who should be on the board next. This board is all Steve Jobs' people. They aren't exactly the Tim Cook fan club."

IBy CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC.