Deals

After Chrome OS, how long can the Google-Apple friendship last?

jobs-schmidtMost of the discussion around Google’s just-announced operating system, Chrome OS, has focused on the threat Google poses to Microsoft. But while Google vs. Microsoft is the big story (given the dominance of Microsoft Windows), and it has the most dramatic juice, I can’t help wondering how the move will affect another important Google relationship — its alliance with Apple.

After all, Google and Apple’s boards share two directors, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt and former Genentech chief executive Arthur Levinson. The arrangement made sense when Google was all about the web and Apple was all about computers and other personal electronic devices. But as Google’s ambitions grow, that relationship is even starting to draw federal scrutiny for possible antitrust violations.

The New York Times says the “interlocking directorates” rule, which prohibits someone from serving on rival company boards if it might reduce competition, applies when directly competing products account for more than 2 percent of a company’s sales. And the list of areas where Google and Apple compete just keeps getting longer: Apple’s iPhone vs. Google’s Android, Apple’s Safari browser vs. Google’s Chrome, Apple laptops vs. Android netbooks, and now, Apple’s operating system vs. Chrome OS.

On the last front, Google makes it clear that it isn’t thinking small, either. The initial market for Chrome OS is netbooks (devices that are smaller and cheaper than laptops), but Google also says it’s “being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems.” In other words, we can expect Google to go head-to-head with Apple at some point in the future, in the same way Apple and Microsoft are duking it now now. It seems likely that Schmidt (pictured above with Apple chief executive Steve Jobs) will have to resign from Apple’s board before then. If he doesn’t, things could get … awkward.