iPhone's Secret Ingredient: Google

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Paul Sakuma / AP

Apple CEO Steve Jobs demonstrates the new iPhone.

Apple and Google just can't stand to be apart. Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced this week that Apple TV will soon play YouTube videos. Google recently unveiled a desktop search program especially for Mac users. And Google tools increasingly appear to be a key part of the secret sauce behind Apple's signature new gadget, the iPhone, set for release in June.

Both brands are beloved by legions of fans, and with Google CEO Eric Schmidt embedded on Apple's board of directors, the companies have gotten wise to the benefits of synergistic coupling. Call it the power of Gapple.

The partnership is more a friendship of convenience than a permanent pact. Apple benefits by bolstering its phone with popular Web tools, while Google gives its users a slick new way to access its services. One concern for Apple might be that the growing popularity of Google's mobile e-mail and calendar programs could reduce interest in Apple's own such offerings. But Apple already gives that software away for free, so the competition isn't likely to pose a lasting problem.

The iPhone's Web widgets and browsing software will enable access to a wide range of Google applications, with built-in tools for Google Maps and searches. A number of the portal's other mobile applications, such as Google News, will also work on the iPhone, benefiting from its touch-friendly browser. And Google's newest mobile tool, an on-the-go version of its calendar program, will take advantage of the iPhone's bright colors, though Apple will offer an alternative in the form of a built-in version of its own iCal software.

Sumit Agarwal, product manager for Google Mobile, says Google has been working with Apple and is moving in the direction of universal access to its suite of search and software applications on mobile devices. "Generally speaking, everything that you see on Macs, pending the technical ability of the device itself, will migrate into mobile applications," Agarwal says. That's likely to include a universal sign-on, so that you don't have to sign into each of Google's services separately.

Programs that require significant data input or are compromised by screen size aren't likely to be ported over in the near term, though. Agarwal says he doesn't expect consumers will demand a mobile Notebook product anytime soon, for instance, referring to Google's popular Web-clipping tool. And he doesn't see consumers clamoring to do heavy word processing on their mobile phones. They may want to comment on and communicate about such documents, though, to facilitate collaboration.

Rather than dumping huge applications onto small devices, Google's mobile applications are streamlined and stripped down to focus on the primary ways consumers use them on the go. "With Blogger, for example, it isn't as important that I be able to leave lots of comments, as that I can capture the essence of what I'm doing at that moment and share it in real time," Agarwal says. "I may want to snap a photo of a monument and store a voice annotation."

Google may have surprises yet to come for the iPhone. The portal partnered with LG in March to offer a blogging tool, and a related widget for the iPhone would be a logical next step. Google already offers a GMail widget for Macs, and a similar program on the iPhone would complement the pre-installed Apple mail software.

What else might Google offer? Possibly a Google Reader widget. The portal recently announced that its blog-reading tool can now be accessed offline. And though the iPhone could access Reader through its browser, a widget would be particularly useful when speedy mobile Web access isn't available. And why not a YouTube iPhone widget, now that YouTube is on Apple TV?

Though Google is key, it is far from the only iPhone partner. Yahoo will offer a mail widget and others, such as Sling Media, may offer software add-ons later to enable access to Web content and TV. Jobs has said that he is open to third-party applications that work within Apple's software framework.

AT&T, the iPhone's wireless carrier, has followed Apple's secrecy lead in keeping mum about the iPhone's features. But AT&T's Glenn Lurie recently alluded to Google applications on the iPhone as particularly appealing features that would make the device worth its $500 sticker.

Lurie and Jobs are both betting that supplementing Apple's sleek mobile browser with Google goodies will encourage consumers to capitalize on the mobile Web in a way that so far they haven't. Although about 90% of phones have some sort of built-in browser, Forrester Research has found that only about 45% of consumers say they are aware of their phone's Web capabilities. And given that 55% of those surveyed by the Equs Group, a market research firm, said they would buy a Google or Yahoo-branded phone, Apple looks smart partnering up.