I suppose it didn’t come as much of a surprise when the news came down Monday morning that Google CEO Eric Schmidt had surrendered his position on Apple’s Board of Directors. After all, Google has been encroaching more and more on Apple territory in terms of mobile phones, operating systems and, of course browsers. So Schmidt had to sit out more and more sessions because of potential conflicts of interest.
In the official announcement, Steve Jobs is quoted as saying: “Unfortunately, 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. Therefore, we have mutually decided that now is the right time for Eric to resign his position on Apple’s Board.”
All right, so no big deal. Situations of this sort do happen from time to time in the world of big business, but the real question is whether the areas in which Apple and Google partner will be impacted negatively. Consider that a Google Voice app has already been rejected by the App Store, and the decision is subject to ongoing investigation by the FCC.
However, that doesn’t mean that Apple is suddenly going to stop providing Google search or their maps and other features on their various products. I am not so confident about Yahoo! search on the iPhone if that deal between them and Microsoft is approved by the U.S. government and the EU. But it would give Microsoft a chance to prove that Bing has traction in the mobile marketplace, but since they don’t have a viable mobile strategy, I suppose anything might happen.
More to the point, you have to consider Schmidt’s predicament. When Apple’s board talks about the iPhone, Schmidt has to stay away. When they discuss browsers, same deal. That’s true even though Google’s Chrome uses Apple’s WebKit as its rendering engine. And now that Google is going into the personal computer operating system business, again he must take a very long lunch.
This doesn’t, however, mean that suddenly Google and Apple are fated to go head to head to steal market share from Microsoft — or each other for that matter. You see, Google’s Chrome operating system will be heavily Web-based, and thus designed to extol the virtues of Google Apps. At first, it’ll likely be used on netbooks, and that will surely impact Microsoft’s efforts to extract their standard OEM operating system toll from those miniature portables.
Talk about causing nightmares for Microsoft. Right now, Steve Ballmer is hoping and praying that they’ll be able to raise the price on netbooks when Windows 7 arrives. But with the Chrome OS being free, how many customers are going to want to pay the Microsoft Tax (the real PC tax) for a bloated system that may actually deliver subpar performance. Based on Linux, you can expect a minimalist Google-borne system to be far less resource hungry and demonstrably snappier.
As to Google Apps: Well, they are surely suitable for the average consumer. You get a passable word processor and spreadsheet, for example, which are more or less compatible with Office. But do the people who buy netbooks really care about running a full-blown office suite on these gadgets?
When it comes to email, the Gmail Web interface is colorful, but not overdone. There are plenty of message organization features to allow you to keep tabs on the mail you and store the stuff that you expect to check out later on. Indeed, I suspect a fair amount of Gmail users on the Mac and PC platforms never touch their desktop email apps, but access their messages via the browser.
In any case, I don’t expect that Chrome OS is going to have a material effect on Apple’s market share. Indeed, if someone wants to run Google’s operating system on their Macs, they will have no trouble at all using their preferred virtual machine app, such as Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion.
More to the point, Chrome won’t be around until some time next year, and we’ll certainly know by then just how well Windows 7 will fare on entry-level desktops and whether it stands much of a chance of replacing XP in the enterprise anytime soon.
So, despite the fact that Schmidt’s departure from Apple’s board seems to put the two companies farther apart, most of their joint initiatives will probably remain in place. Whether or not Google Voice joins them may be something the FCC may have to decide, and it may be more a matter of the apps impact on AT&T’s wireless service than on anything Apple is doing.
Meantime, Google has now put up highway billboards touting Google Apps. You have to wonder how Steve Ballmer reacts when his limousine passes one. I’d surely love to be the fly on the wall and find out, though my insect ears might be deafened by his vulgar screams.
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