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Apple announced today that Google chief executive Eric Schmidt (pictured, right) has resigned from its board of directors. It’s a move that seemed inevitable, but may also confirm growing competition and tension between the former allies.
The relationship between Google and Apple, particularly the sharing of two board members (Schmidt and former Genentech CEO Arthur Levinson), drew scrutiny from the federal government earlier this year; Schmidt’s departure became even more likely after the announcement of Chrome OS, the operating system that Google says will “power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems.” There has been some debate about how directly Chrome OS will compete with the Mac operating system, but in the announcement, Apple CEO Steve Jobs (pictured, left) acknowledged that there was a growing conflict of interest:
Eric has been an excellent Board member for Apple, investing his valuable time, talent, passion and wisdom to help make Apple successful. 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.
TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld notes that the announcement comes just a few days after the Federal Communications Commission revealed that it’s investigating the rejection of Google Voice from Apple’s App Store. Regardless of whether you buy the idea that the FCC investigation prompted Schmidt’s departure (I’m skeptical), it seems probable that the news caused some friction between the two companies. It’s also hard to resist the broader argument that Google and Apple’s philosophies seem to be diverging, particularly in the mobile market — Apple’s strict control of the native applications offered through its App Store is the opposite of Google’s advocacy for mobile web sites accessed through the browser on any smartphone.
I’m also struck by one of the phrases Jobs used — “as Google enters more of Apple’s core businesses.” With the announcement of products like Chrome OS, Android, and the Chrome browser, Google is revealing ambitions that go far beyond the web search that made its famous (and is still the main piece of its revenue). Perhaps the idea of “Planet Google” will soon seem literally true.
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