Fourth Industrial Revolution

In this tech battle it's Apple and Microsoft vs Amazon and Google

The new Apple TV is displayed during an Apple media event in San Francisco, California, September 9, 2015.

Competing technology companies are taking different approaches when it comes to one key technology. Image: REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

Matt Weinberger
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By the end of 2015, it finally looked as if both had succeeded: The new Apple TV supports the Apple App Store, and Microsoft updated the Xbox One to run a version of the Windows 10 operating system.

And a report came out last week indicating that the Apple TV will soon be getting an upgrade that turns it into a smart Siri-powered home assistant, a lot like thesmash hit Amazon Echo.

In the past, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said the Xbox One video game console will fill a similar role, starting with the arrival of Cortana in a forthcoming update.

It means that for once thelongtime frenemies have aligning philosophies: Microsoft and Apple see the television as the most desired real estate in the home. And if people want a voice-powered home assistant that can control their connected home appliances, that's where they will deliver it.

But Amazon and Google are going in an entirely different direction.

With the Amazon Echo and the recently announced Google Home assistant, these relatively newer companies are betting on something a little more ambient — a gadget that is always on and standing by, unlike a television, and that can be comfortably stashed anywhere with a power outlet. Amazon even sells mini, hockey-puck-size versions of the Echo so you can have one in every room.

This great philosophical divide, with Microsoft and Apple on one side and Amazon and Google on the other, seems to come from their histories.

Apple and Microsoft got their starts decades ago in the early days of the personal computer. For most of their histories, "computer" meant "mouse, keyboard, and monitor," in varying configurations.

It wasn't so very long ago that the television seemed like the most logical thing in which to incorporate a computer, given that it very often contains the largest screen in the home. And both Apple and Microsoft have strong existing investments in the software developer ecosystem and are already adept at enhancing the capabilities of something with a screen.

Amazon and Google rose to prominence in the early days of the internet era, when the network was far more important than any single computer. While each of them has dabbled in device manufacturing, Amazon and Google were made special in the first place by the intelligence they used to power their online services.

Apple and Microsoft are betting that people still want to make the television the center of their lives. Amazon and Google are trying to provide a little more intelligence, everywhere, with or without a screen.

Are Apple and Microsoft too old-fashioned? Or are Amazon and Google too avant-garde? With the whole voice-control-slash-conversational interface game still very much in its infancy, there's room for everybody to be right. But as we get more used to talking to our gadgets as if they're human, a shakeout seems inevitable.

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Fourth Industrial RevolutionEmerging Technologies
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