Why IT All Comes Down To Four Titans

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Over the next ten years, the fate of IT will be decided by the struggle between Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, says Clint Boulton

These are exciting and excruciating times to be a Google watcher.

One of the things I’ve tried to pay the most attention to in the past three years is emerging threats that rise up to challenge Google.

I mean, Google has  search and can use it down cold, right?

Four rivals worth watching

So I like to pay mind to either the new kids on the block – Facebook – or the grizzled veteran challengers such as Apple, which in my opinion and that of many others has established the mobile computing market with the iPhone and iPad.

But I spend so much time in the media trenches picking over the tiniest bit of minutiae that my compass gets thrown out of whack. It’s the whole to see the forest through the trees cliche.

So I found Farhad Manhoo’s new piece for Fast Company to be illuminating and refreshing because it provides a great level set for beginners and reminds those covering Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook just how steamy the competition has gotten for users’ attention.

Manhoo correctly notes the battlegrounds:

Over the next two years, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google will increasingly collide in the markets for mobile phones and tablets, mobile apps, social networking, and more. This competition will be intense. Each of the four has shown competitive excellence, strategic genius, and superb execution that have left the rest of the world in the dust.

Manhoo’s point about how these high-tech titans are encroaching on each other’s so-called turfs is well taken.

For example, Google used to be about search. Now it has the world’s leading mobile platform in Android and offers a compelling Facebook alternative in Google+.

Amazon used to sell books, then other gear. Now it sells services wrapped in e-readers in its Kindle Fire tablet, which competes with Apple iOS devices and other Android tablets.

Apple used to just sell computers and then MP3 players. Now it sells phones and tablets, including the new iPhone 4S, whose Siri voice search threatens Google’s mobile search business.

Facebook came along and provided the single most disruptive Web platform since Google’s search engine. With 800 million users and counting, Facebook is extending its tendrils not only to mobile but is seeking to bring entertainment to its users in its walled garden. That competes with the other three.

The list of variable competing applications and businesses is vast, but not even as mind-boggling as the areas where these companies cooperate.

Google creates mobile apps for iOS. Apple uses Google Maps and Search. Amazon connects with Facebook.

You get the idea. Manhoo sees these four rivals fiercely fighting to reach every piece of Web real estate imaginable (and when they don’t “imagine” it, they buy smaller fish that do) – and he is largely spot on.

I could pick a bone with the two-year timeframe. Indeed, the title of Manhoo’s article is portentous and limiting: “The Great Tech War Of 2012.”

I see this competiton as a war, though I expect it to play out for the next decade, not just through 2012. How about you?

Next battle: autonomous search

My feeling is one of the next big battlegrounds will be the serendipitous or autonomous search practice, where Web services target users for products and other things they want. At a high level, it’s about information sharing, but it’s also about getting people to buy stuff.

I’ll be paying close attention to these themes here at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco over the next couple days.

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