Google-Apple board ties severed; collaboration next to go?

Google logoGoogle and Apple no longer share any board members thanks to increasing legal scrutiny from various government entities. Because of this, the two companies can no longer afford to be public friends, but does that mean the end of collaboration between them? It might.

Apple and Google severed their last official ties Monday morning, as Arthur Levinson has resigned from Google's Board of Directors. The former Genentech CEO had been sitting on the company's board since 2004 and Apple's board since 2000, but recent legal questions have forced some space between the two companies. With Levinson's departure from Google's board, Apple and Google must now move forward with their future plans—sans shared board members, and possibly, shared collaboration.

Google and Apple have historically had a friendly relationship, having started out in very different industries but with the same overall goal in mind (to create technology that makes people's lives easier and generally avoid coming off as evil). Over the years, however, they have slowly become both partners and competitors. Google continues to partner with Apple in creating and maintaining Google Maps for the iPhone, for example, but the advent of Android has pitted the two companies against each other in the mobile space. That's in addition to the availability of Safari and Chrome as competing Web browsers, too, and the upcoming Chrome OS.

This frenemy relationship seemed to work fine for a while, and the two companies shared two board members for a number of years: Levinson and Google CEO Eric Schmidt. However, the Federal Trade Commission launched its probe into Apple and Google in May to investigate whether there was any antitrust activity going on. According to the Clayton Antitrust Act, an individual cannot sit on the board of two competing companies if it might reduce competition between them.

The FTC pressure got to Eric Schmidt first—he resigned from Apple's board in August, with Apple CEO Steve Jobs citing increased competition between the two companies. "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," Jobs said. The FTC wasn't ready to back down, though, noting that it planned to continue its investigation so long as there were "interlocking directorates between the companies."

That brings us to today and Levinson's resignation from Google's board. Google did not give any specific reason for his departure—Levinson described his experience with Google as a "remarkable experience"—but it's clear that he had to choose sides for the same reason as Schmidt. With rumors circulating that Apple had nudged Google away from using multitouch in Android and the high-profile drama over the status of Google Voice in Apple's App Store, the companies can no longer afford to be public friends, even if their involvement resulted in no real anticompetitive activity.

Are there any opportunities left for future collaboration, or has the recent drama slammed the door on that? Google Maps remains a default application on the iPhone, but possibly not for long. News recently came out that Apple bought a small startup called Placebase on the down-low earlier this year that just so happens to have created its own Google Maps competitor. If there's any sign that Apple is preparing to move on, this is it. The acquisition doesn't necessarily mean that Google Maps on iPhone is going the way of the dodo tomorrow—it could mean that Apple is just preparing to cover its rear in case of future rifts—but the writing is on the wall. A breakup is in process, and if there's any collaboration in the future, it will likely be of the more bureaucratic, formal kind.

Source: ars technica

Tags: Apple, Google

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