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Apple-Google Rift Growing

The second shoe â€" or in this case, Apple â€" has fallen. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has resigned from Apple's board, barely three days after the FCC sent letters requesting information from both companies (as well as from AT&T). But while this may seem like a reaction to the Obama Administration's more aggressive posture towards potential monopolies since Christine Varney took over the trust-busting side of things at the Justice Department, it's simply an indication of an inevitable and growing rift between the two companies.

There is no question that Schmidt should have done this months ago, when Google's plans for an operating system that would compete with Apple's Safari became settled. Apple's statement only serves to beg the question of why he didn't step down earlier.

as Google enters more of Apple's core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS, Eric's effectiveness as an Apple Board member will be significantly diminished, since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest.
The answer is probably public perception -â€" stepping down because of a hue and cry over interlocking directorates could have been construed as an admission of wrong-doing, and the last thing either Schmidt or Jobs wanted was to do was attract the kind of attention that would give the government an excuse to meddle in their affairs.

Well, it's too late for that now, but at least the FCC investigation into Apple's App Store review process provides a smokescreen behind which Schmidt can step down.

A lot has been made, and rightly, about Google's infatuation with Apple, but the companies have fundamentally different approaches to their businesses:

  • Apple is a classic command and control company, and that includes how it treats developers and customers, which is to say, as a benign dictator â€" but a dictator nonetheless;
  • Google gives its employees freedom to pursue their own projects, developers freedom to develop for its Android platform, and offers customers an increasingly open way of using its tools;
  • Apple is an on-premise software vendor and Google is pushing Web-based content and storage;
  • Apple doesn't trust itself to do the enterprise right, while Google is taking steps to become more enterprise-friendly.
Not all of these issues put the companies in opposition, but they do speak to a growing divergence of corporate culture. And between Android, Chrome and Web apps on the one hand, and Safari, the iPhone OS and the App Store on the other, they have plenty to compete about.

I've noted before that Google has a different vision of how mobile apps should be sold (over the free Web as opposed to in proprietary app stores). Apple has been quick to defend its prerogatives by banning Google's Latitude and Google Voice from its App Store.

The two companies may well continue to admire each other, but as rivals and from a distance that's only growing colder.

[Image source: World Economic Forum]

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