About a year ago, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) were racing to see who could hit $1,000 per share first. The two were sized up against each other based on how their stock prices were doing, but that's all changed for Apple since then. What hasn't changed is some key similarities between the two companies that have propelled both of the them to the top of the mobile game. Let's look at three characteristics these fierce competitors share.
1. Mobile foresight
Apple exploded into the smartphone market in 2007 with its iPhone – quickly outpacing other mobile players by releasing an easy to use touchscreen phone. While Apple has ceded it's OS market share to Android over the past few years, iOS still holds about 40% of smartphone subscribers in the U.S, according to comScore.
Worldwide, Google dominates iOS with more than 79% of the OS market share -- leaving Apple's iOS with just over 13%. While Apple made waves by out-innovating other mobile devices when the iPhone launched, Google waged mobile war by giving away its software to original equipment manufacturers.
The two companies took very different approaches to mobile, but both ended up ruling consumer devices. A report by Canalys says the two mobile operating systems will remain at the top spots through 2017, but Microsoft's Windows Phone will be only slightly behind iOS. With Apple's iOS 7 -- and possibly a cheaper iPhone -- coming this fall, it may help Apple regain some of its iOS strength. But even as Google nabs more of the mobile market, there's still no disputing Apple's mobile status.
Just as with smartphones, Apple entered the living room space before Google and up until recently didn't have much competition from the search engine company. Apple has always played a cat-and-mouse game with television -- with former Apple CEO Steve Jobs calling Apple TV a "hobby" and current CEO Tim Cook saying the living room is of "intense interest." But Apple TV commands a top spot in the living room space, accounting for 56% of all streaming boxes sold last year.
Google hasn't been as successful with its TV product -- and has fallen far short of CEO Eric Schmidt's prediction that "by the summer of 2012, the majority of the televisions you see in stores will have Google TV embedded. But Google is trying to turn the tide with the recent launch of Chromecast. It's cheaper than Apple TV and allows users to wirelessly send what they're watching on a mobile device or PC straight to their TV. While the system pairs with only a few services right now -- like Netflix -- its low price of just $35 allows users to easily jump out of Apple's ecosystem.
While Chromecast is still unproven in the living room space, allowing users to easily send what they're already watching to a TV set could be one of the best ways to make waves in the coveted space. Apple's AirPlay system works much the same way and is one of biggest selling points for the company's device. While the Cupertino company is ahead of the competition right now, Google's new device shows the company knows it can't give up on owning a piece of living room. Chromecast may be enough to give Apple a run for its money -- unless, of course, the i-Maker decides to release the perpetually rumored iTV.
3. Ecosystem eminence
It seems like a no-brainer, but a great OS needs an integrated ecosystem of apps and services in order to survive. Google and Apple have both pounced on the idea with Google offering over one million apps and Apple following close behind. Both companies offer access to books, magazines, music, videos, games, and more – the sheer number of options set them apart from BlackBerry and Microsoft.
With the recent launch of Google Play Music All Access and the coming availability of iTunes Radio, these tech giants are trying to tap into the already popular offerings from Pandora and Spotify. While it's hard to image either company unseating the already-popular streaming services, Apple and Google both understand that offering new services is a way to keep users engaged with their ecosystems.
When it comes to usage, iOS takes the top spot. According to report released by Flury, iOS users spend more time in their apps than Android users do. A separate study by Experian showed that iPhone users spend about 26 minutes more each day using their phone than Android users. While iOS may be getting more usage, we already talked about how Google is hands-down beating Apple in OS market share. But the important comparison is that both companies are years ahead of competitor ecosystems.
The three similarities we've touched on have helped both companies achieve the tech status they have today, but it's no direct indicator of their future performance. Each company is continually releasing new products and services to retain customers -- and trying to gain new ones. The difficulty for both is that the mobile space is constantly facing intense competition.
Many have questioned whether Apple can still innovative the way it used to, and consumers -- and investors -- will need to keep an eye on the iOS 7 release and upcoming iPhone to see if Apple can still wow the mobile market. If there's one characteristic that Apple lacks compared to Google right now, it's investor confidence.
Fool contributor Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google, Netflix, and Pandora Media 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.