How can Google and Apple Work Together?

One of the on-again, off-again hot topics within the blogosphere and the mainstream press is where or not Google will ever build its own desktop operating system. So when Steve Jobs announced that Eric Schmidt was joining the Apple board, I was somewhat surprised that the speculations of a Google OS didn’t flare up again… that was the first thing that went through my mind.

Apple and Google are, strategically speaking, highly complementary. There is little overlap between the core competencies of the two innovators, and thus the strategic opportunities for cooperation/alliances are vast. A few weeks ago, Om scribed his thoughts on what an alliance might mean on the digital media front. But let me add to his thoughts by shifting the focus a bit… Google can benefit greatly from having an inside relationship with a hardware & system software company; and in turn, Apple can gain much from Google’s web expertise.

Such a view is particularly relevant when it’s put into the context of a common enemy… Microsoft. As I’ve written before, Google seems to be pursuing a long-term competitive strategy that strikes at the heart of Microsoft’s core strength… by deflating and devaluing ownership of the desktop OS franchise, and shifting it to the web. Yet, the migration is a long and arduous process, highly dependent on the nirvana of always-on, never disconnected broadband. Google, in other words, can certainly use a “bridge” in the near term, until the future arrives.

In fact, so could Apple. With Microsoft now extending its desktop by embracing the webtop, with its comprehensive “Live” strategy, Ray Ozzie is clearly in the process of building his own bridge. Meanwhile, as Apple pursues its vision of becoming the new “Sony” of the 21st century, it risks dilution of focus by stretching its resources too thin. Now more than ever, Apple needs to defend, and hopefully grow, its share of the desktop market and, given the direction of the market, Google represents an ideal ally.

The chess board is shifting… and it’s heading in a direction that favors an alliance between Google and Apple. Specifically, the two companies have an opportunity to combine their resources and their brands to extend Apple’s operating system functionality with Google’s growing webtop application capabilities (without each having to reinvent the wheel by duplicating efforts).

Doing so would not only result in a suite of integrated web/desktop solutions that the market is currently demanding, it would also provide a direct response to the increasing threat of a new and improved, re-invented Microsoft. Given such a perspective, it makes great mutual fiduciary sense for the CEO of Google to sit on Apple’s board.