The Great Tech War Of 2012

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google don’t recognize any borders; they feel no qualms about marching beyond the walls of tech into retailing, advertising, publishing, movies, TV, communications, and even finance. Across the economy, these four companies are increasingly setting the agenda.

There was a time, not long ago, when you could sum up each company quite neatly: Apple made consumer electronics, Google ran a search engine, Amazon was a web store, and Facebook was a social network. How quaint that assessment seems today.

The four American companies that have come to define 21st-century information technology and entertainment are on the verge of war. 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.

Jeff Bezos, who was ahead of the curve in creating a cloud data service, is pushing Amazon into digital media, book publishing, and, with his highly buzzed-about new line of Kindle tablets, including the $199 Fire, a direct assault on the iPad. Amazon almost doubled in size from 2008 to 2010, when it hit $34 billion in annual revenue; analysts expect it to reach $100 billion in annual revenue by 2015, faster than any company ever.

Facebook, meanwhile, is now more than just the world’s biggest social network; it is the world’s most expansive enabler of human communication. It has changed the ways in which we interact (witness its new Timeline interface); it has redefined the way we share–personal info, pictures (more than 250 million a day), and now news, music, TV, and movies. With access to the “Likes” of more than 800 million people, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has an unequaled trove of data on individual consumer behavior that he can use to personalize both media and advertising.

1. The Road Map: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google do not talk about their plans. Coca-Cola would tweet its secret formula before any of them would even hint at what’s next. “That is a part of the magic of Apple,” says new CEO Tim Cook.

2. The Inevitable War: Hardware. Media. Data. With each company sharing a vision dependent on these three big ideas, conflict over pretty much every strategic move seems guaranteed. Amazon, for example, needs a better media tablet to drive more customers to its Kindle, MP3, and app stores. But how to avoid an HP-like disaster?

3. The Profit Game: Late in 2010, Jobs made a surprise visit to Apple’s quarterly earnings call. The purported reason was to celebrate Apple’s first $20 billion quarter, but Jobs clearly had something else on his mind: Android. At the time, Google’s free mobile operating system was beginning to eclipse the iPhone’s market share.

4. The Living Room: In the spring of 2010, Rishi Chandra, a Google product manager, took to the stage at the company’s developer conference to announce Google’s next victim: the TV business.

5. The Phone Barrier: One industry stands directly between the Fab Four and global domination. It’s an industry that frustrates you every day, one that consistently ranks at the bottom of consumer satisfaction surveys, that poster child for stifling innovation and creativity: your phone carrier. And your cable or DSL firm. For Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, the world’s wireless and broadband companies are a blessing and a curse.

Source: So, who will win in 2012?

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