Apple and Google, once allies with shared board directors, have been at loggerheads all year as they fight to steer the mobile web market. Their latest clash is reported to be over mobile payments, with the two giants racing to acquire start-up Boku.
According to sources who spoke to the TechCrunch blog, Boku's senior management team has held talks with both Apple and Google in recent weeks, and has hopes of a bidding war. The track record favors Google, which beat Apple to the AdMob acquisition last year (though Apple hit back effectively with iAd).
Like mobile advertising, payments are expected to be a key driver of new revenues and behaviors on handheld devices, and both giants want to make a strong play.
This may lead to a price tag of $450 million or more for Silicon Valley-based Boku, which would be a nice return for its backers. It has raised $38 million to date from big name venture capitalists like Benchmark Capital, Khosla Ventures, Index Ventures, DAG Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.
Importantly, it has not just developed a platform that offers an alternative to bank cards or PayPal on mobile, but has gained big carrier support as the operators look to stamp their control and brand on payments too.
It has alliances with several global operators, including Vodafone, and last week signed a deal with AT&T that allows consumers to buy digital content by typing in their cellphone number rather than a credit card.