The Battle of the Tech Giants: Illusions of Innovation, Parallel Structures and Capitalism

Every day more than 4,000 new apps are released. Google Play´s monthly new releases exceed 100,000 each month and Apple´s App Store is not far behind. The big five tech companies (Apple, Facebook, Google (Alphabet), Amazon, Microsoft) are steadily supplanting oil companies as biggest corporations in terms of stock market value. What is it these companies do and how do they make their money? The easy (and also partly correct) answer is: Advertising. To a great degree these firms´ revenues are made by advertisement. Google generates 86% and Facebook up to 98% of its´ revenue through advertising. Globally, more then 60% of expenses for mobile advertisement go to these two firms (Lobe, 2018). Maturing into such giant private entities, the actions of the big five have far reaching consequences and effects on society, politics, and culture which can not solely be expressed in monetary terms. The big five seem to do different things, but, it is safe to say that they are all corporations with the goal of generating profits. This blog article wants to investigate and illustrate what products the big five provide and how these become more and more alike, as all of them want a piece of every cake. It thereby also disarms the belief some have, that all media content and all our digital actions will be through one single device. The battle of the tech giants has far reaching implications for the users, immediate and delayed.

What the Big Five Came Up to Do

Google is first and foremost known for its large-scale hypertextual web search engine, a search engine that “crawls” the web and indexes search results. Facebook began as a student network of Harvard University, but rapidly expanded to include many other universities. Today, Facebook is the world´s largest social media and social networking platform and anyone claiming to be over 13 can join Facebook. Apple is first and foremost known for its´ computer hard- and software. Amazon came to life as an online book, video and music retail store. It later started selling video games, consumer electronics, and many other products in its´ online store. Finally, Microsoft first enterd the market with computer software. Especially prominent are its operating systems for personal computers.

Expandning the Product Line and Messing with Dem Siblings

In this section I will introduce a few areas or products where the big 5, or at least some of them, are becoming adversaries, as they expand their product line into the traditional spheres of the others.

Media and news

A product, that traditionally none of the big 5 addressed, is news media- sharing and -production (production in this case may also refer to the manipulation of news content which inevitibaly takes place when aggregating, reorganizing, structuring and presenting information produced by other sources)(Lobe, 2018). Google News is a news aggregation service by Google and is said to be one of the biggest aggregator platforms in the world (Wang, 2020). Google News pools news from more than 50,000 news sources around the world and is available in 35 languages. At least two thirds of Americans obtain their news through Facebook and half of all Facebook users in the USA consume their media solely over Facebook. Since 2015, Apple as well has its news aggregating platform wich uses AppleBot web crawler searches for feeds which are then displayed in the in-app-browser (Safari). In addition, since 2019 Apple introduced Apple News+ which is subscription based and allows access to more than 300 magazines and many newspapers. Microsoft News is slightly more limited as it only features headlines and certain articles. It allows users to subscribe for speciied news sources. Only Amazon is left with having no news platform up until now. It provides a limited aggregator for Fire TV, so is on the verge of entering the “news market”.

Smart speaker

After the Kindl e-reader, Amazon was one of the first to develop a smart speaker, Amazon Echo, with a virtual assistant artificial intelligence technology capable of voice interaction, Alexa, and many other features. Apple and Google followed with the HomePod and Google Nest and the repsective Siri and Google Assistant. Microsoft has filed a patent for a smart speaker, which could mean it will develop a speaker of its own, using its already existant Cortana voice AI. The same is the case for Facebook, which filed a patent for a speaker codenamed Portal focusing on video chat and social media.

More potential battlefields

Apple is still the focal corporation for hardware, such as smartphones, of the big 5, but Google and Amazon have entered the smartphone market with the Pixel and the Amazon Fire smartphone. Microsoft has various smartphones but also computer hardware and tablets. An HTC was namend the Facebook Phone in 2013, but it was a total flop. Clouds are another product were the big 5 get in the way of each other. Amazon (Amazon Web Services) is by far the bigegst provider of clouds, but there is: Google Cloud and Google Drive, OneDrive (Microsoft), and iCloud (Apple). When Microsoft bought LinkedIn it made a decisive step into the social media market. Amazon is somehow involved in the social media market as it provides cloud services to many social media platforms.

Conclusion

The above mentioned examples portray a trend. While there are some firm specific products and some that are no longer on the market, the product portfolio of the big five is increasing rapidly, entering the traditional spheres of the others. I believe this trend goes beyond just the proximity of the firms and their products. There are actual parallel structures, so products which are the same, but we are still somehow made to buy. I know it is harsh to say that consumers are made to buy, but when regarding this trend as a whole, not as individual corporations with special interest, it seems as if the big 5 want to produce an ecosystem which we as consumers should and can never leave. What is it we see in all the new applications that seem so new? Is every invention by the big 5 actually such a novel invention, or could it be that the technological advancements are very gradual, but sold to us as highly innovative? It does not seem likely that all media and applications will come from a single device, mostly due to the logic of neoliberal capitalism. Money wise, it does not make sense to have an ultimate device, a universal tool capable of almost everything. Instead, a never ending array of supposedly new products are fed to us every day, to make us believe that innovation is made in seconds and that it is justifiable to pay a high price to purchase these products.

The above mentioned views are just my opinion on a specific topic. Feel very free to disagree.

List of Refrences

Lobe, A. (2018). Der Kampf der Techgiganten. Le Monde Diplomatique: Atlas der Globalisierung, 76-79.

Wang, Qun (2020). Normalization and differentiation in Google News: a multi-method analysis of the world’s largest news aggregator (Thesis). Rutgers University – School of Graduate Studies.

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1 Comment

  • FionaGarcia
    Posted December 18, 2020 at 5:23 pm 0Likes

    Thank you for this interesting blog post! It is very interesting how the big 5 have such a monopoly of the economy, that we hardly think twice before buying any of their products. What makes it even more bizarre is how as you pointed out many of their products overlap and people are still buying them. It is very frustrating to think about how the consumer is being manipulated. Therefore, I consider that it is up to us to try to give smaller companies a chance instead of always going by brand recognition. Of course, I recognize that this might be hard since these companies have control over these markets.

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