Time for an Apple/Google Mash-up

The two titans are drawing closer together. If they would just combine their offerings, they'd pose a real threat to Microsoft

I have an admittedly odd affinity for remembering TV advertisements I saw as a very young child. Sometimes those memories pop up when I least expect them.

Today I've been thinking of a spot that those of a certain age will remember well: Two guys walking, one eating chocolate, the other, inexplicably eating peanut butter out of a jar. They bump, and the chocolate drops into the jar. The rest, of course, has become marketing history, summed up by the jingle for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups: "Two great tastes that taste great together."

Funny, the ad comes to mind in the wake of an announcement that Google (GOOG) CEO Eric Schmidt is joining the board at Apple Computer (AAPL). It's the latest indication these two Silicon Valley stalwarts are getting closer all the time. And the possibilities for cooperation between the two are legion.


  The companies' interconnections are a study in six degrees of Silicon Valley separation. Former Vice-President Al Gore is an Apple director and senior advisor to Google. Intuit (INTU) Chairman Bill Campbell too is both an Apple director and Google advisor. And Genentech (DNA) CEO Arthur Levinson sits the boards of both companies.

The ties don't end there. Paul Otellini, CEO of chipmaker Intel (INTC), which supplies Apple's microprocessors, sits on Google's board. So does Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital, an early Google investor who also wrote The Little Kingdom, a 1984 book on the founding of Apple. And who at Sequoia was an early investor in Apple? Founder Don Valentine. Sequoia partner Mark Kvamme also has a history with Apple, having served in management for its French operations. Kvamme's father, Floyd, is an emeritus partner at Kleiner Perkins and was once a VP of sales at Apple. Perkins is also home to John Doerr, an early Google investor and now one of its directors. He also happens to be a director at Intuit.

There are also several Google executives who have time at Apple on their resumes, and those were just the obvious ones listed on Google's executive bios page. I'm sure there are more and certainly plenty of folks at Apple who have spent time at Google.


  I ran through this litany for a reason: The ties that run between 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino and the Googleplex in Mountain View are deep, and will only get deeper now that Schmidt is on Apple's board. It all makes me wonder what interesting things they could do together, not as a merged entity (though I admit the thought has occurred) but as closely allied partners.

Consider an element absent from the list. There's a conspicuous dearth of connections to Microsoft (MSFT), a common rival. For the first time in a long time, Apple's Macintosh computing platform has a shot at eroding, ever so slightly, the dominance of Windows as the computing platform of choice among rank-and-file consumers (see BusinessWeek.com, 6/15/06, "Apple's Growing Bite of the Market"). Over time, Macs with Intel chips, the ability to run Windows, the substantially smaller threat from viruses and spyware, and the iPod’s halo effect will combine to make the argument for owning a Mac much stronger among consumers who have never owned one before.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is readying a renewed offensive into territory that Apple currently controls: online music and media. Apple, I'm certain, is ready to respond to the competitive gauntlet, but could certainly use some additional strategic thinking. That's something Schmidt, himself a veteran of the Microsoft wars from his days at Sun Microsystems (SUNW), can provide.


  What else might they do together? The Mac is cool. So is Google. Look at all the interesting moves by Google of late. It has introduced GoogleTalk and Google Earth and acquired the Writely Web-based word processor. There's also Google Calendar, a new batch of hosted services.

Think of ways these and other Google tools could be made more Mac friendly. There's no official GoogleTalk client for the Mac, for instance, although Apple's iChat supports it, as does the Mac-based multiprotocol chat program Adium. And it took a while before users of Apple's Safari browser could log into Gmail accounts.

I love Google's applications, but am sometimes left wanting. Gmail, for instance, is great for its storage capacity, but its interface is weird. Help on that front from Apple would improve it greatly. Brilliant at interface design, Apple's often a little weak on features. A wide-ranging collaboration in these areas would work wonders on both sides. Tight OS-level integration with some of Google's best stuff could really widen the appeal of Leopard, the next version of Mac OS X.


  Meanwhile, Google is giving Mac users plenty of reasons to ditch their .Mac accounts. Why bother paying Apple $99 a year for services that Google offers for free—does better in the first place? Gmail offers essentially limitless e-mail storage (2.75 GB and growing, as of Aug. 30), while Mac.com e-mail starts at 1 GB and allows you to upgrade to 2 GB for an extra fee.

Meanwhile, as good as Apple's iCal may be, Google Calendar is pretty compelling, and supports the iCal standard anyway. Why not find a way to shift users of .Mac (Apple's dotmac blog says there are more than 1 million) over to Google-based services, and then team up with Google for further improvements?

Even if that doesn't happen, Google now has more reason than ever to make sure that every new application is Mac-ready. Take Writely, for instance. This free word processor is excellent, compatible with Microsoft Word, and completely Mac friendly. Since most Mac users buy Microsoft Office just so they can get their hands on Word, why not make a Writely sign-in an optional feature on .Mac, or a default bookmark on Safari? Same goes for Google Spreadsheets.


  Now I know Apple makes iWork, which includes Pages, its own word-processing application. Why not get Pages and Writely talking to each other, so you could create a document in Pages and automatically save it to your Writely account? And export your tables straight to Google Spreadsheets.

And don't forget Keynote, Apple's vastly superior answer to PowerPoint. Throw a Google-hosted virtual meeting service into the mix, and the possibilities are astounding. Let's call it Google Conference. Upload your Keynote presentation—fancy cuts, transitions, and all—to Google Conference, and deliver your presentation virtually, while talking into the iSight camera embedded in your Mac. Your audience could be thousands of miles away, while your video image and voice walk them through your brilliant slides from the comfort of your office. Google handles the back end, Apple handles the front end. Both show Microsoft a thing or two.

The thought of those peanut butter cups is getting more appealing all the time.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.