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Google apps helping rival Apple prosper

Stephen Stetelman, a real estate agent and iPhone user, has his loyalties divided between Apple and Google.

James Bates/The New York Times

Stephen Stetelman, a real estate agent and iPhone user, has his loyalties divided between Apple and Google.

NEW YORK — For many people, smartphone shopping comes down to a choice of ­Apple’s iPhone or one powered by Google’s Android software. But now consumers can get an iPhone and fill it with Google.

Google has become one of the most prolific and popular developers of apps for the ­iPhone, in effect helping its competitor make more appealing products — even as ­relations between the ­companies have deteriorated.

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While some of its Internet services were built into the ­iPhone from the beginning, Google has stepped up its presence in the last eight months, pumping out major new iPhone apps or significantly improving old ones. It also has expanded efforts to hire developers who can make more such apps.

A maps app Google released in December has been the most downloaded program for the iPhone for much of the last month. The company has cranked out a YouTube app, an iPhone version of its Chrome Web browser, and better software for gaining access to its Gmail service. Two dozen ­iPhone apps from Google are available on Apple’s App Store, with variations for the iPad.

Google’s strategy may look self-defeating at first. But ­analysts and technology executives say it is simply acknowledging the obvious: There is an enormous market of avid ­iPhone users it wants to reach, an audience that is a target for ads and that can yield a ­bonanza of data that will allow Google to improve the online products that produce much of its profits.

Google’s support for the ­iPhone also looks like a win for Apple, which, after all, makes just as much money when it sells an iPhone that is used to gain access to Google services. But potential risks lie in Google’s growing presence on Apple’s devices, especially when it comes to apps that replace basic functions like Web ­browsing, maps, and e-mail.

Users of iPhones who spend much of their time in Google apps could deprive Apple of valuable data it needs to ­improve its own online services like maps. And those apps could help Google build a ­deeper connection with users that makes them more likely to switch entirely to Android smartphones later.

‘‘The best way to recruit users to those devices is to get them using the services,’’ said Chris Silva, a mobile analyst at Altimeter Group, a tech industry research business. ‘‘Find them where they are, get them using the services, and ramp them up so when they have devices equivalent to the iPhone, they are already in the market.’’

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