Hans plays with Lotte, Lotte plays with Jane
Jane plays with Willi, Willi is happy again
~Games Without Frontiers, Peter Gabriel.

I'm forever fascinated with the gamesmanship that goes on between Google, Apple, and Microsoft. You expect them to undercut each other at every turn, to do whatever it takes to get the upper hand in the marketplace--even to copy one another. This level of competition drives product innovation, lowers prices and acts a check against any one company becoming too powerful. In this context, what you certainly don't expect them to do is cooperate (maybe ever). Yet I came across a couple examples this week of these companies seemingly helping one another out.

Google Agrees to Leave Apple Multi-touch Technology Alone

My first example involves Google and Apple. VentureBeat reports that although Google is fully capable of handling multi-touch technology, a member of the Android development team told reporter MG Seigler that Apple simply asked Google not to use multi-touch on the G1 and Google agreed. Just like that.

I have no way of knowing if this story is true, but if it is, it's amazing. You have two companies who are competing in a high stakes game to be the future mobile phone OS and Google acquiesces on a key feature and agrees to leave it out. This is even more remarkable when you consider that the reporter points out that having multi-touch truly separates Apple from Android. (I know that Apple is claiming patent ownership on this technology, but Google could afford a court battle if it came to that.)

Microsoft Licenses Exchange ActiveSync Protocol to Google and Apple

My other example involves Microsoft and Google (and Apple). This week, Google announced a new service called Google Sync, which lets users sync calendar and and contact information between devices. This is not so earth shattering on its own, although it does come on the heels of Microsoft's own announcement of a similar syncing service (which I wrote about in Microsoft Readying MobileMe-type Service for Windows Mobile), but Microsoft actually licensed the technology to Google that makes the new Google Sync service possible.

I realize money exchanged hands here, so it's not as shocking as a possible handshake agreement between Google and Apple described earlier, but it is extraordinary when you consider these two companies are battling for nothing less control of our computing lives. It's worth noting that Microsoft also licensed this same technology to Apple, Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson. Obviously, Microsoft can make more money by sharing than by hogging this technology, but I still find it surprising (in a good way) that it does.

So against the backdrop of the battle for world domination, we have three companies involved in an elaborate dance. Sometimes that dance brings them together in a true case of politics (and business) making strange bedfellows and when that happens you can't help but notice and shake your head in wonder.

The Apple multi touch patent has been widely reported across many reputable sources. It's hardly rumor mongering. I will grant you that the VentureBeat article is based on an anonymous source, but whether Google claimed a patent or not, has nothing to do with the veracity of that article. Apple still could have asked Google not to use multi touch and it is curious that they haven't used it, especially when hackers have figured out how to implement multi touch on a G1.