There are four companies vying to dominate all facets of the internet, each coming at it from a different set of strengths, said Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt at the AllThingsD conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Those companies include: Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, but Mr. Schmidt omitted Microsoft, the dominant player of the PC era.
"I have a feeling there's a platform war under way," he said. "If you look at the industry as a whole, there are four companies exploiting platform strategies very well. We can debate who is fifth or sixth, but lets concentrate on the four."
"Each is a consumer brand that provides you something that you could not do otherwise," Mr. Schmidt said. Google organizes the world's information; Facebook organizes every friend you've ever known, and even ones you can't quite remember. Amazon is the world's largest bookstore. Later, Mr. Schmidt added, Apple produces beautiful consumer products.
The difference between the so-called platform wars of today and the tech battles of yesteryear is that there are many more players that are all growing very quickly. In addition, because they are all very well-capitalized, particularly after Facebook's upcoming IPO, there is very little likelihood that one would acquire another.
"They are too big to merge," he said. "More likely, one begins to miss the mark and a successor comes along," he said.
Interestingly, Mr. Schmidt left Microsoft off the list. When asked about this by AllThingsD's Walt Mossberg, Mr. Schmidt said, "Microsoft is not driving the consumer revolution in the mind of the consumers."
When pressed about a wildly successful Microsoft platform, the video-gaming system Xbox, Mr. Schmidt said its "not a platform on the computational level." Microsoft's cash flow comes from sales to enterprised customers locked into Windows software and servers, which will power the company for at least another decade, even if it remains on the sidelines of the platform wars.
Google once had a closer relationship with Apple, but then started competing directly against Apple's iOS with its own mobile operating system, Android. "It started very much as a partnership, buy now with the success of Android it has gotten rough," he said.
Google would like to have a closer relationship with Facebook, and could use social data to improve search, but Mr. Schmidt said it has become clear Facebook prefers working with Microsoft. "We've tried very hard to partner with Facebook," he said, adding that Microsoft gives them deal terms Google wouldn't.