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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Antitrust inquiry: How Apple and Google compete

google_apple_logo[Originally posted May 5, 2009 on]

Given the looming presence of Microsoft (MSFT) on the PC desktop, we tend to think of Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) as corporate best friends united by a common enemy.

But the news Monday night that the U.S. government has opened an inquiry into the two companies' "interlocking directorates" under the Clayton Antitrust Act has prompted a fresh look at the extent to which Apple and Google are, in fact, competitors.

We assume, by the way, that the red flag that caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission is Google CEO Eric Schmidt's seat on Apple's board, since the only other overlap is Arthur Levinson, former chief executive of Genentech (DNA), a gene-splicing company.

Schmidt is known to recuse himself from Apple board meetings when the iPhone is discussed. That makes sense. It wouldn't be fair for Google's team Android to get inside information about Apple's plans for future mobile devices.

But does Schmidt leave the room when Safari comes up? Or iTunes? Or MobileMe?

When you start to look at the hundreds of software products Apple and Google make -- especially on the Web -- things quickly get pretty complicated. Here's a partial list of the areas in which we know Apple and Google compete: