Did Apple and Google Kiss and Make Up?

Two middle-aged guys sit down for a cup of coffee, and people start acting like they just saw Brad and Angelina at Starbucks. What's the big deal?

In this case, the two guys are Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt, sitting down for a morning confab over caffe lattes at a Palo Alto beanery last Friday. Some alert passersby snapped pix of the pair with their cell phone and sent them to Gizmodo, which then alerted the world. That's the big deal.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Cringely charts the iPad's itinerary in "Apple's iPad invasion: First stop, Hollywood" | Catch up on Cringely's take on Google's struggle with China in "Google: A bull in China's shop" | Stay up to date on all Robert X. Cringely's observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

It resembled a scene from "The Sopranos," where two capos are sitting outside Satriale's Pork Store drinking espresso and talking business, until the next thing you know one of them gets whacked. (Remember: When they come for you, they always send a friend.)

What did they talk about? Was it a conciliatory meeting to ease tensions between the two companies or just two old friends sharing a muffin? Was Eric trying to get Apple to join Google's anti-China movement? Was Steve telling Eric to take the Nexus One and shove it where it's unlikely to get very good wireless coverage?

That's the question on everyone's minds. To answer it -- or at least, get more mileage out of the topic -- Gizmodo asked a body language expert from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to analyze their postures. Her conclusion? The men mostly distrust each other, and Schmidt is frightened by Jobs.

(The goofballs at eSarcasm consulted their own body language analyst, whose conclusions are slightly different.)

The reason why this silly meeting is getting so much attention is because of where Apple and Google sit in relation to the rest of the world. These two companies are defining what technology is and does, just as Microsoft and Netscape did in the 1990s and a litter of Web 2.0 companies did in the more recent unpronounceable decade. Increasingly, everything either of these companies do has an impact on a wide range of industries (music, video, games, publishing, and so on) and, sometimes, world politics.

Last week, the news was all Google all the time: First with the revelations from the Viacom YouTube lawsuit, then the fallout from Google's dissing China. This week, the tech world is revving up for the imminent release of the Jesus Slate, aka the iPad, on April 3. As I write this, nearly half of the stories on Google News' science and technology section have something to do with the Wonder Tablet.

The two companies are an interesting study in contrasts. Google, of course, just made waves with its public defiance of Beijing. Apple, on the other hand, makes all of its iPhones, iPods, and iPads in China, and seems to enjoy a special relationship with Beijing. That's not changing any time soon.

And like its Chinese hosts, Apple possesses an insatiable appetite for total control -- from the apps that run on its gear to the point of requiring developers to physically tether iPad samples in locked windowless rooms. Though Google also likes to fly mostly under the radar, it seems a bit less anal retentive over what Android developers can and can't do.

When Apple has a new product in the wings, the entire Web throbs with anticipation, and the unveiling is like the circus has just come to town. When Google has a new product, it usually just posts something on the Official Google blog. The one big exception: Its unveiling of the Nexus One phone, which if nothing else proved that when it comes to putting on a show, the Googletons have much to learn from Jobs.

Earlier this year I wrote that the battle for tech supremacy will be between these two companies -- and we all will be better for it in the long run, thanks to the innovation it will inspire. I still feel that way. Tensions between the two companies will get a lot worse before they eventually dissipate. I don't think a cup of coffee changes that.

But here's the real question: Who paid for the lattes? E-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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