War declared: Apple’s Cult Takes on Google’s Borg

Analyst Opinion – The ignorant masses milling around the iPod display at the local Wal-Mart last week had no idea that they were at Ground Zero of the next titanic battle in all of technologydom. And while past conflicts, like Microsoft kicking IBM into the PC weeds a generation ago and Google more recently knocking Microsoft down a peg or two, typically involved relative newcomers picking off established, dominant leaders, the fight that’s about to get underway is different than anything we’ve seen before.

That’s because our protagonists, Google and Apple, are both very much at the top of their game. And these relative superpowers have just taken off their proverbial gloves and declared war. Where’s the popcorn?

The news may have flown under most people’s radar. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, had also been a member of Apple’s board of directors for the past three years. Well, until last week, when Apple announced his resignation. No one’s surprised, as growing competition between the two – Google’s Android’s targeted right at the heart of Apple’s iPhone empire, for one, and its upcoming Chrome OS won’t be playing nice with Mac OS X – increasingly forced Mr. Schmidt to recuse himself from any discussion involving anything remotely related to mobility and operating systems. Come to think of it, it’s hard to imagine any conversation that wouldn’t have placed Mr. Schmidt in a conflict of interest position.

And for what it’s worth, if you believe Mr. Schmidt actually “resigned”, then I have a bridge in a certain New York borough to sell you. The sad reality for Google’s Kahuna is after Apple abruptly rejected the Google Voice Application from its online App Store – and yanked related third party apps offline as well – it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Mr. Schmidt was finished and Apple wouldn’t be inviting Google for nachos and beer anytime soon. The honeymoon is most definitely over.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because for all of Apple’s wonder-inducing consumerism over the past decade, it hasn’t exactly been the best behaved company around. Rampant complaints about developer-unfriendly App Store approval processes have tarnished the brand. The company has routinely gone after those suspected of leaking news on upcoming products, occasionally resorting to legal arm-twisting to get them to reveal their sources, and more recently got some bad press for killing iTunes syncing from Palm’s Pre. The suicide of an employee working for a Chinese supplier has also shed light on a secretive corporate culture that doesn’t always seem as bright and shiny as the products it sells.

So Apple’s decision to show Google’s CEO the door and kick the company’s product out of its online store marks a turning point of sorts. Apple may not have pulled punches in the past, but this latest move signals that it’s even less willing than it may once have been to even pretend to care what anyone else thinks.

Like any good fight, some folks may get hurt in the process. But big spectacles like this tend to force companies to bring their A game. Which, in the end, can only benefit consumers, regardless of whose cheering section they’ve joined.

Carmi Levy is a Canadian technology analyst and journalist covered with scars from his years leading IT help desks and managing software development projects for big bad insurance companies. He comments extensively in a wide range of media, and works closely with clients to help them leverage technology and social media tools and processes to drive their business.