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Google's Schmidt: 'I resigned from Apple board for the right reasons'

Google chairman and former CEO defends his controversial stint on the board of bitter rival Apple at an event Thursday in London.

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Apple chief executive Steve Jobs with Google boss Dr. Eric Schmidt in happier times. Tony Avelar/AFP/Getty Images

Google boss Eric Schmidt left the board of rival company Apple "for the right reasons" -- because Apple didn't mind a conflict between Chrome and Safari but "really did mind" the conflict between the iPhone and Android.

Schmidt is Google's executive chairman, having been CEO between 2001 and 2011. Between 2006 and 2009 he also served as a director on the board of Apple, then run by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Today Apple's iPhone and iPad are direct rivals with Google's Android mobile operating system, but when Schmidt first joined the Apple board there was less conflict between Apple's hardware business and Google's search and software business. Once they did become rivals, however, the relationship turned sour as Jobs declared because he felt the search giant had stolen concepts of iOS to create Android.

Speaking at an event in London today run by UK newspaper the Financial Times, Schmidt revisited his period on the board when asked if his actions at the time contravened Google's infamous motto, "Don't be evil."

"Steve (Jobs) and I talked about two things that overlapped," recalls Schmidt of the possible conflicts he faced with a foot in both camps. "One was what became Chrome (Google's Web browser, which competed with Apple's Safari browser), and one was what became Android."

"Apple did not mind the Chrome vs Safari issues," recalls Schmidt, "but they really did mind the iOS vs Android issues."

The solution, Schmidt explains, was for the Google boss to step out of the room when the subject of Apple phones came up in board meetings. However, he says that in discussing this arrangement with Jobs, the two bosses decided "it just didn't feel right." That's when Schmidt took the decision to step down from the Apple board, asserting now that "I resigned for the right reasons."

The Apple iPhone first appeared in June 2007; Android was unveiled a couple of months later. Steve Jobs died in 2011.