It looks like Apple might soon have a new best friend: Microsoft, at least if the introduction of an iPhone app for Microsoft's Bing "decision engine" is the first sign of a new trend.
You will remember that Apple and Google used to be joined at the iPhone and browser, with Google providing popular apps for the iPhone and a default search engine for the Safari browser. Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt even sat on Apple's board of directors.
While the Google iPhone apps still remain--and are widely used in business--the relationship is in tatters, as Google has begun competing with its former friend across a wide front. Schmidt, under pressure, resigned from the Apple board.
Apple has also appears to have kept Google Latitude away from becoming an iPhone app and may be delaying the Google Maps Navigation app from an iPhone appearance. Both are important mobile business tools, but only on Android.
For business users, I believe the teaming of Microsoft and Apple could be a good thing, though unlikely to break the back of Google's plan for domination of the Internet. The big hope is that Apple will simply help Microsoft improve.
Microsoft's Bing services are not, today, as good as what Google offers. Bing's search not as comprehensive, Bing's maps not as detailed, and Bing's approach too aimed at selling stuff rather than answering questions. But, Bing is still a better attempt than Microsoft has shown to date.
I know this is, today, a weak argument. Yet, if Microsoft and Apple decided to go after Google together, the battle could become quite intense. The two might also be able to spark the anti-trust action that would put some limits on Google's ambitions.
There is one area where Microsoft may already top Google: Privacy.
A top Firefox executive recently responded to what many saw as Google CEO Schmidt's pooh-poohing of privacy concerns by recommending users choose Microsoft's Bing instead.
For Apple, recent Google actions show how quickly things change, with Google now seemingly ready to do battle with Apple across the marketplace. Google's Android smart phone OS is launching a wave of iPhone competitors. Google's Chrome browser competes with Safari. The Chrome OS competes with Mac OS in some areas, particularly tablets. And today's rumors of a Google netbook can't be terribly comforting in Cupertino, either.
On the basis that "my enemy's enemy is my friend," Apple and Microsoft could find that competing with Google requires both their efforts, with Microsoft able to provide web applications that Apple doesn't want to build. (Or does it, since Apple has been making some moves on the mapping front?)
This is all very speculative at this point, but competition is a good thing and, working together, Apple and Microsoft may be able to take the fight to Google in ways not previously possible.