Schmidt Takes a Bite of Apple

Eric Schmidt now sits on the board of Apple, which is leading to a flurry of speculation about what potential partnerships between Google and Apple may be in the offing. So far, the speculation seems to be rather mundane meanderings about integrating Google search technology in iTunes, possible assistance for Google in assembling a suite of apps to compete with Microsoft, and possible entertainment content distribution deals, with Jobs ties to Disney.

To me, the potential lies in the possible creation of power positions on Microsoft’s outposts, rather than assembling the forces for a head to head onslaught on the heavily fortified desk top app market. Even with Apple at their side, Google faces a daunting task in taking on Office with their tremendously entrenched position. At best, I would see them capturing a good percentage of the relatively small “alternative” market, but unless something shifts in market positions, I don’t see them swinging many main stream customers away. These apps are squarely in the pragmatist market, and the customers adverse to the risks inherent in a switch, especially when there will be a seamless upgrade path offered by Microsoft to a live version of Office.

But the cozying up takes on a more interesting dimension when you explore the possibilities beyond Microsoft’s power positions. In the mobile computing world, Microsoft has been struggling to gain market share, and the step from an iPod to a full mobile pc is not that far. Tie that together with Google’s work in creating compelling mobile apps and a web based application matrix and some interesting possibilities present themselves. We’re not far from the horizon where mobile computing starts to replace the desktop. And mobile distribution of entertainment content is rapidly moving through the early adopter stage. A chasm crossing of significant magnitude isn’t far away. I’ve got to believe that Jobs is visionary enough to see this. Apple never managed to beat the Wintel cartel on the desktop, but the hip pocket is a whole new ballgame.

Also of note is what this means for Eric Schmidt himself. Is this move solely for the benefit of Google, or is Eric positioning himself for life after Google? As the Times articles states, this moves him into a pre eminent position as a Silicon Valley power broker, and he has had political aspirations in the past. While Schmidt has done an admirable job in minding the kids at Google, the power triad structure has never been that elegant, leading to questions of its stability.

Whatever the outcome, in the swirl of partnerships that have recently been announced, this emerges as one of the more interesting developments, with some intriguing long term possibilities.

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