I remember the halcyon days of 2007 when Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt stood on stage and talked about a "merger without merging" between Apple and Google. The idea being that Apple built the best hardware and operating system while Google delivered world-class cloud services that would be accessed through Apple's first-party apps. The most obvious examples being Google Search in Safari and Google Maps in the built-in Maps application.
Then Android happened. Then Steve went "thermonuclear war" over the whole thing, Schmidt left Apple's board and things went badly for a while.
I don't know if you've noticed recently, but the Apple-Google war is over and both sides won.
The key to understanding this is to realise that each side was always interested in a different thing. Apple wants to sell hardware at a handsome profit, which they're doing to the exclusion of every player in the mobile industry save Samsung. Google wants data, exabytes of it, and from everywhere to feed to their algorithms and databases.
So what was the point of Android? It increasingly looks to me like Android was a safety net for Google. A lever to pry open the door of the mobile world and make sure Google could collect data from mobile users as the world moves - at least in part - towards the post-HTML internet.
The evidence for this seems to be this: that all the major Google properties are now available on iOS. Let's just enumerate them:
- Google Now
- Google Maps
- Google Earth
- Google Drive
- Google Play Music
- Google Plus
All of these are available on iOS now. That is - more or less - the entire Google services suite fully accessible on iOS. There's seemingly nothing that Google is obviously keeping back for Android exclusivity. That's not what Android is about for Google.
Certainly, there are some areas which are not as well-integrated on iOS as they are on Android devices. For example, Google Now can't replace Siri and you can't set Chrome, Gmail and Google Maps as your default browser, mail client and maps app. It seems, though, that change will inevitably come for iOS too. After all iOS - to Apple - isn't about driving use of Mobile Safari; it's about selling hardware.
What's also fascinating about Google's play for iOS is how, well, great these apps are. Chrome came out of the gate being pretty awesome. The Gmail app has made huge strides in recent versions and the Google Drive app has developed into a really great iOS citizen. Google is rolling, Apple style, on these apps and it shows.
To me, buying an iOS device feels a bit like buying an Intel-based Mac: you get all the great Apple software but you can run everything from the "other camp" too. It's also interesting to note that one of the major historical arguments for buying an Android device - that it "works better with Google services" - is essentially moot now, save for some minor levels of integration that will probably disappear sooner rather than later.