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Apple Makes a Play for Google's Thunder

All's fair in love, war, and smart phone supremacy.

Just ask Google and Apple.

Google is set for a 10aPST press conference to unveil its anticipated entry into the smart phone market by officially taking the wraps off its Nexus One device.

Leaked Image taken of Nexus One by Google.
Photo: Cory O'Brien
Leaked Image taken of Nexus One by Google.

It will be a direct competitor to Apple's iPhone from a one-time allie. On any given day, that'd be a huge news event.

((Note from Jim: I'll be live-blogging this morning's Google event beginning at 10AM-PT/1PM-ET, so check back often for updates!))

Instead, Google's message is getting crowded by Apple and its myriad mobile messages today: The tablet is on the way; Apple itself says downloads from its wildly successful App Store have now topped 3 billion in just 18 months; and there are rumors that Apple will buy Quattro Wireless for $275 million, according to my buddy Kara Swisher at AllThingsD.

All of this together makes for an enormous news day in the wireless world. Just this morning, Forrester is out with new data showing smart phone penetration jumped from 11 percent last year to 17 percent today.

Growth is accelerating, and Apple and Google are staking their claims.

For Google, the pressure is on to make this device a success by showing truly what an open platform can do for consumers and the enterprise. If it changes the pricing model by offering an unlocked version, and turns the wireless carrier business dominated by AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, upside down, all the better.

The sub-stories are fascinating. Google has always said it wanted to be agnostic, and get its software on everything. I gotta think that Motorola, HTC, Dell, and various other hardware makers can't be happy with Google's own smart phone. Google's go-it-alone/we-know-better/get-out-of-our-way approach scuttled the company's relationship with long-time partner and friend Apple. The company runs that risk with many more partners too.

Unless the company's true goal is to show the possibilities, which encourages more innovation by those very partners, which leads to more interest in Android, which expands the market, which means more sales for those peddling handsets running Google's software, which is (back to full circle here) good for Google.

Apple is hardly sitting still.

Dismissing Eric Schmidt from its board was a good move, but it came oh so very late.

He walked out of the boardroom with Apple's strategic roadmap in hand. Google's $750 million purchase of mobile ad company AdMob - a company that Apple reportedly bid on - might be a good example of that. Or maybe Apple's play for Quattro is in response to Google's move? Who knows. With these two, it's a chicken/egg ordeal.

Either way, with competing headlines of this magnitude out of both companies, simultaneously, it is clear that these once-friends are today fierce rivals gunning for each other. The stakes are enormous, and the marketplace can easily support multiple winners. That includes Research in Motion, Motorola, even Palm.

And with phones getting smarter, and more powerful, and faster, this could be a huge year for Qualcomm and its Snapdragon chip. Not to mention mobile microprocessors coming from Intel, in addition to Atom in those netbooks.

I've said it before: wireless and smart phones and mobile, digital entertainment and apps are easily the most dynamic sectors in tech today. Look no further than Apple and Google, which might supplant every great tech rivalry we've seen to date. Battle lines drawn. Gloves off. Locked and loaded.

Mark my words: Google's gonna make it interesting, but Apple's got the innovation, expertise and most important, the experience in software AND hardware to end up on top.

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