Apple and Microsoft are fighting an outdated war

It’s not just about the screen any more. Picture: Getty Images

Since the nineties, Apple and Microsoft have been racing to get a computer into the living room.

By the end of 2015, it finally looked like both venerable tech titans had succeeded: The new Apple TV supports the Apple App Store; Microsoft updated the Xbox One to run a version of the Windows 10 operating system.

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

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

It means that for once, the long-time 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’re going to deliver it.

But in a stark contrast, 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’s 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 sized versions of the Echo so you can have one in every room.

Mike George Amazon VP of EchoGettyAmazon VP of Echo Mike George

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 in the early days of the personal computer, decades ago. 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’s very often the largest screen in the home. And both Apple and Microsoft have strong existing investments in the software developer ecosystem who are already adept at enhancing the capabilities of something with a screen.

Meanwhile, Amazon and Google both rose to prominence in the early days of the internet era, when the network was far more important than any single computer. While both of them have dabbled in device manufacturing, the thing that made Amazon and Google special in the first place was their 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.

Google HomeYouTubeThe forthcoming Google Home device.

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 like they’re human, a shakeout seems inevitable.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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