Four years have passed since Google kingpin Eric Schmidt resigned from the Apple board of directors, signaling the start of what you might call a cold war between the two tech giants.

Or perhaps cold is the wrong word.

Six months after Schmidt left Apple’s board, Steve Jobs laid into Google during an Apple town hall meeting, crying foul over Android’s challenge to the iPhone and recasting the search giant’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto as “bullshit.” Throughout 2010 and into 2011, the two companies publicly sparred over whose smartphone technology was the most “open” and whose would ultimately make life easier for humankind. Then, in 2012, Apple summarily removed Google Maps and YouTube from the iPhone, determined to reduce its dependance on the company that so quickly usurped its command of the mobile market.

Schmidt now says there’s detente between the two, but even if that’s true, it didn’t come soon enough to avoid a very real divorce of technologies. Until recently, the two companies shared one of the world’s most important open source software projects — WebKit, the basis for Apple’s Safari browser and Google’s Chrome — but then, in April, that marriage ended too. Once so close, Apple and Google are now as far apart as anyone in the high-stakes tech game.

And yet, there’s one thing they still have in common, one last piece of technological brilliance they freely share with each another.

Chances are, you’ve never heard of it. But nowadays, it’s an integral part every new Apple iPhone — and every new Android phone. It’s not an app or a web service or some sort of hardware contraption. It’s more important than that. It’s a tool that’s changing the way we build and run computer software — any computer software.


[MORE: The One Last Thread Holding Apple and Google Together]

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