Are Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) set to become the tech sector's version of the Hatfields and McCoys for the next decade? It's beginning to look like it.
Go back in time a couple of years, and the idea seemed pretty farfetched. After all, the two companies' core businesses didn't (and still don't) intersect with each other, and they'd formed a healthy software partnership for the iPhone, with Google Maps and YouTube coming pre-installed on the device. If anything, Apple and Google looked like allies dealing with a common enemy in the form of that monopoly-wielding colossus up the coast, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) .
But today, Microsoft has to look like a toothless giant to both of these firms, with Zune, Windows Mobile, and its search endeavors all more or less having flopped. And all the while, the Apple-Google relationship has slowly gone from being friendly, to ambivalent, to outright hostile.
On one hand, we've got Apple trying hard to limit Google's presence on the iPhone: Its continued blocking of Google Voice has produced an FCC inquiry, and its summer acquisition of Placebase is widely seen as being done with the idea of having Placebase's software eventually replace Google Maps. And on the other hand, Google's Android platform, after starting off slowly, is emerging as the iPhone's most credible rival in the consumer smartphone space. Motorola's (NYSE: MOT ) Droid, while overhyped as an "iPhone killer," is nonetheless off to a decent start, and 2010 should see a slew of Android phones arrive courtesy of Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson, HTC, and maybe even Google itself.
So it should only be a little surprising to hear that Google now appears on the verge of delivering a competitor to what must be the most hyped and speculated-upon product this side of the first Star Wars prequel. Yes, I'm talking about the Apple tablet.
British site IBTimes recently reported that Google is developing a "netbook" whose specifications just happen to include a multi-touch display, a solid-state drive, an NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) Tegra multimedia processor, and 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity. With a feature set like that, and a reported $300 price tag (presumably with the help of Google or carrier subsidies), it's not hard to figure out which device Google's hardware would be directly targeting. Well aware of how it's playing catch-up in the smartphone market, it looks like Google doesn't want to be late to the tablet wars.
But there's quite a difference between being on time for a battle and being ready. Apple has done a phenomenal job of creating buzz for its tablet while hardly uttering an official word, and as long as the price is reasonable, that buzz should translate into strong initial sales. And more importantly, it's been reported that the tablet will be able to run the same apps that are written for the iPhone and iPod Touch, provided that they're modified to handle the tablet's higher resolution. This should guarantee a huge edge in available apps over Google's device, which is supposed to be based not on Android, but the company's recently developed ChromeOS.
If Google's engineers can develop an easy-to-use tablet with solid performance -- history tells me they're up to the task -- then it should gain a following at its reported price tag. But as is the case with smartphones, Google will probably be staring at an uphill battle against its new best enemy.