Google keeps fighting for the heart of the iPhone with new Gmail update

A tiny tweak to Google’s Gmail(s GOOG) app for iOS(s AAPL) takes it another step closer to building a layer of Google services on top of Apple’s iPhone. With the latest update, users can choose to set Gmail default links to open in YouTube, Chrome or Google Maps, as appropriate.

That’s instead of Apple’s default solution, which would be to link to YouTube on the web, Safari and Apple Maps, respectively.

It should come as welcome news to heavy users of Google services or those who simply want to be able to pick what apps to connect to on their phone. It’s also, as CNET noted, a sort of “end run” around Apple’s services. Even as Apple has decoupled its iPhone partnership with Google for everything except search — removing YouTube and Google Maps as default iOS apps in the second half of 2012 — the web company has still found a way to reach its users who have iPhones and iPads through Apple’s regulated App Store.

The Gmail update comes a week after the introduction of Google Now for iOS as part of the Google Search app. That service also takes advantage of Google services users’ activity across a variety of Google apps, including those used in iOS.

Google isn’t alone among Apple’s competitors who have aspirations of this kind: Amazon(s AMZN) and Facebook(s FB) have also been able to build a series of apps that can act as replacements for Apple’s core iOS services, from music and videos to making phone calls and texting.

Apple certainly benefits by being able to offer the most popular services and apps on its platform, but at some point it must be concerning for Apple that the most basic services of its flagship device are being bypassed by superior apps coming from its fiercest competitors.