10:38 PM

Looking for meaning in GOOG's Eric Schmidt joining AAPL board - nothing much here...

By Richard Koman for SiliconValleyWatcher

The fun game yesterday was speculating on the meaning of Google CEO Eric Schmidt's joining Apple's board. After all, Google and Apple are two great tastes that go great together.

First, corporate speak: Steve Jobs (from Apple press release): "Like Apple, Google is very focused on innovation and we think Eric’s insights and experience will be very valuable in helping to guide Apple in the years ahead.”

Om Malik looks forward to integration between Google's advertising network and Apple's iTunes juggernaut. "Even though Google is being overtly aggressive about online video market, it is trying to leverage its advertising network more than download sales. Is it too hard to imagine - watch the video on Google Video, and download it on iTunes store? Both parties win? iTunes being included as part of Google software pack, or part of Google Toolbar? Google driving music-related searchers to iTunes store?"

Any of these scenarios is possible, even likely, but none of them require a seat on the board.

My initial take - especially after having posted about speculation that Jobs may have stock options problems at Pixar - was that Apple needed someone of Schmidt's stature as a potential CEO successor to Jobs. If you care to revisit the 1980s, you will recall that Apple simply doesn't run on MBAs. Apple requires vision, obsession and near-insane devotion to execution at the top. And ValleyWag points out that Schmidt has experience dealing with demanding personalities. But somehow, none of this really holds much water either.

Enter John Dvorak with the kicker: Schmidt is the set-up pitcher for a Sun-Apple merger.

Schmidt would quietly be Sun's inside man on the negotiations although technically he's be a neutral party since he doesn't actually work for Sun.

The way Dvorak sees it, Sun's server genius, Andreas von Bechtolsheim, a good friend of Schmidt's, may actually be behind the move. He's put Sun back on the map with AMD-centric servers that are fast, cheap and reliable. But Sun no longer has the marketing muscle of the glorious old days. Sun would get Apple's ad budget and Apple would get ... serious servers.

But does Apple still seriously care about the server market? This Sun-Apple business has been bouncing around for 20 years but since Jobs' return, Apple has substantially moved from a desktop manufacturer to a consumer company. When you look at long-term movements and you look at Apple, do you see a Microsoft-style company that wants to be dominant in every area?

Or do you see a design-centric appliance company that builds consumer lifestyle devices running robust software all tied together with proprietary lock-in and e-commerce opportunities? I see the latter, and while such a company might be an excellent company for Sun's servers, I don't see that they need to be Sun.

Last word to John Battelle: "I don't know what it means.

Tom Foremski here: What to expect from Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO joining the board of Apple Computer? Not much.

It certainly doesn't mean that Mr Schmidt will help bring about a Sun Microsystems and Apple merger, as John Dvorak speculates on MarketWatch. And it doesn't signify an Apple-Google alliance against Microsoft as GigaOm and others, have speculated.

BTW, it would be very unethical to bring in a director onto the board to facilitate an M&A deal.

And as for an anti-MSFT alliance, that isn't the case either. Mr Schmidt has already been there, and got his head handed back to him when he was CEO at Novell. GOOG doesn't need to engage MSFT anyway, the market is taking care of MSFT.

And as for MSFT's bid for iPod glory with its Zune music player? Again, what would Mr Schmidt bring to Apple? Apple has nothing to worry about, Zune will initially be competing against MP3 players from loyal Microsoft music player partners, and iPod would need to slide a long way down the hill to meet the Zune challenge.

All this appointment means is nothing much. CEOs of large companies spend time on the boards of other large companies--that's all there is to this.

A more interesting question might be in examining Mr Schmidt's track record as a CEO at Novell, and at Google. Let me know if you'd like to join me in exploring this question for a future post... :-)