Apple has announced Eric Schmidt is leaving the Cupertino company's board of directors by "mutual" agreement. Apple CEO Steve Jobs cites increasing competition between the two companies; by that standard this should have happened a year and a half ago.

By January 2008 the two companies were competing in cell-phone operating systems, wireless hardware and Web services, and half of Apple's board was Google insiders, a draw-dropping instance of Silicon Valley inbreeding that Apple nevertheless shrugged off. So what's changed? Google has since launched "Chrome OS," but it's doubtful Apple sees the unreleased Linux window manager as a real threat.

The real worry: Two federal agencies are now investigating ties between Apple and Google. Micrososft's high-powered flacks, experts in antitrust who have retained Schmidt's ex-girlfriend, may deny lobbying on the matter. But after effectively buying the future of Google neighbor Yahoo, the Redmond, Washington company must be thrilled to see its longtime detractors in Silicon Valley further splintered.

(Pic: Jobs and Schmidt at the iPhone introduction, Macworld, January 2007. AP.)