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Google application for iPhone points toward potent alliance

Almost lost in yesterday's tech news was Google's announcement that it has released an application for the iPhone that consolidates several of its Web services such as e-mail, search and calendar functions into a single interface.

Owners of an iPhone (or an iPod Touch) need only visit Google.com to access the new goodies; no download is required. A single Google software engineer, Steve Kanefsky, envisioned the feature after being impressed with the iPhone's large touch screen as well as the inclusion of the full Safari Web browser.

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"I set out to create an application that would preload my favorite Google products and allow me to switch between them instantly," Kanefsky wrote in the Google Mobile Blog, a group blog for the Google Mobile development team.

After sharing a prototype with others at Google, "things started moving pretty quickly," Kanefsky said. Within weeks they had the software ready for release.

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This move should put to rest any suspicions that Google's recent ventures into the mobile phone space threaten Apple. In particular, some wondered what Android, Google's in-development platform for "smart phones," will mean for the iPhone.

The purpose of Android is to move Google's Web services to mobile phones. The iPhone already is a great platform to achieve that. Google's strategy is to include all agreeable parties. Apple and Google already have demonstrated a willingness to work together by including Google Maps on the iPhone.

"Google's overall goal is to provide users with access to information, wherever they are," the company stated in its press release announcing the iPhone application. "This commitment is device-independent, and we are working to develop new mobile technologies that are faster, easier to use, and available on more devices."

So Android itself will not compete against the iPhone, although rival handsets that use it will. That essentially leaves Apple where it is today, going against the likes of Samsung and Nokia, but retaining the advantage of its legendary hardware design savvy.

Though the iPhone won't run the Android software, given Google's strategy I would expect many Android features to be ported to the iPhone. As Android is based on the Linux operating system, a cousin to the BSD Unix at the heart of Mac OS X (which the iPhone runs), such a feat should prove a trivial for Mr. Kanefsky and his cohorts. That task will get even easier after Apple releases the iPhone SDK to developers next year.

Add to all this the natural synergy between Apple and Google -- the companies share an overall philosophy of making the world a better place through technology -- and you get a formidable alliance. It also doesn't hurt that Google CEO Eric Schmidt sits on Apple's board of directors. Or that fellow Apple board member Al Gore is a Google advisor.

Yesterday's announcement strengthens further the nascent Apple-Google alliance. That could mean headaches for the old guard in the cellular industry, but good things for mobile phone customers in 2008 and beyond.

UPDATE: As if we needed any more evidence of this ever-more-cozy relationship, Google today unveiled its "Mac Developer Playground." According to a company blog post, the Web site is a place "where the Mac community can look for new and interesting open source projects and demos from our Mac team."

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