Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) has waved a fond farewell to board member Arthur Levinson. The former CEO of Genentech will surely be missed, but in the end, his presence had become a liability. Better to cut the cords cleanly than to let Levinson become the focus of an antitrust inquiry.
This move is no surprise -- I've been expecting it since the government started sniffing around Google’s backyard this spring. Levinson and Google CEO Eric Schmidt shared time between Google and the board of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , and the conflicts of interest between those two businesses were starting to pile up:
- The iPhone and Android are clashing head-on in the smartphone arena. Move aside, Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) and Palm (Nasdaq: PALM ) , because Apple and Google will soon be more important as phone designers than either one of you.
- Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) is sweating bullets over the Google Chrome browser and upcoming system platform. In that space, Apple's Mac OS X and Safari offer direct competition again.
Schmidt chose to leave Apple's board in August, and now Levinson has completed the separation between Cupertino and Mountain View. Well, almost; former Vice President Al Gore kinda-sorta bridges the two tech campuses by serving on Apple's board and being an official advisor to Google. We'll see how long that fence-sitting situation lasts.
The mere fact that Apple and Google are competing in a number of different markets is telling. The way I see it, Apple is becoming a smaller and much more consumer-oriented version of high-tech conglomerates IBM (NYSE: IBM ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) . The company sells hardware, software, and services and is bound to step on a few toes around Silicon Valley. And Google has become so much more than the search engine that made it famous.
Nobody is claiming that Google Search is competing against Apple, or that Google is building its own laptops. Yet both companies have matured and diversified to the point where conflict becomes necessary -- and people need to choose sides.