It all comes down to the living room. The titans of tech have traded punches on PCs and are gaining ground in mobile, but the ultimate battle will take place inside the TV.
And why not? The TV is really just a full-blown monitor. With so many people wrapping up their days by spending their leisure time consuming prime-time programming, it was just a matter of time before the quest for eyeballs came to the battle to end all battles in your living room.
So let's look at how the biggest players in tech are jockeying for position to be at the heart of your home's heart.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT)
The Xbox 360 isn't just about gaming, and that became apparent during last month's Xbox One media event, when the entire first half of the presentation was devoted to the new console's streaming and computing benefits. Game demos followed during the latter half of the reveal.
When the Xbox One hits the market in time for this year's holiday shopping season, buyers will be able to seamlessly shift from games to live TV to Internet Explorer.
Microsoft knows what it's doing. It was the first console maker to allow Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) subscribers to stream through its console. Netflix was a lot smaller at the time, and streaming video was largely a novelty. However, with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings sitting on Microsoft's board -- where he remained until stepping down last year -- no one has had to tell the software giant that Netflix is the leading source of bandwidth consumption during peak prime-time hours. Even without Hastings on the Microsoft board, Netflix will be a big part of the Xbox One experience.
Big G had best-of-class partners on the hardware end, but it failed to play nice with the programmers. Leading broadcasters and cable networks didn't buy in, and Google TV launched a Web-enabled platform where many of the more popular viewing options were blocked for Google TV viewing.
Third-party app developers showed reasonable support. Netflix was there, of course. However, Google's rush to launch a service before it was ready burned its hardware partners. Google TV lives on, but the only reason we can't write off the search star is the success of Android and YouTube. Google's open-source platform is the mobile operating system of choice in the smartphone space, and it's gaining ground in tablets. As far as YouTube goes, it's the top dog in video sharing.
So we can't dismiss Google, and later this year it will update the interface to run on its latest Android and Chrome platforms.
The wild card here is Apple.
The Apple TV set-top box has gotten better with every generation, but it's still not the category killer that the consumer-tech leader has achieved with the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. Things can change with the long-rumored smart television, and CEO Tim Cook reiterated this past week that his company has "incredible interest" in this space. The only real question is whether we will be finally getting a full-blown premium HDTV this holiday shopping season.
There's plenty riding on this, especially if the Xbox One succeeds as a console that makes any TV a smart television. If so -- or if Google TV finally gains traction -- the appetite for a smart TV from Apple will diminish substantially. Apple knows its back is up against the wall, with margins on its existing products shrinking. Now it's merely a matter of beating the clock.
The tech battle will be televised
The next few months will be interesting, and couch potatoes will have the best seats in the house.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google, and Netflix and owns shares of Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.