How Google vs. Apple these days is like a great NBA playoff battle

Watching Google announce Chromecast (its assault on Apple TV), the new Nexus 7 (its assault on iPad), and Android 4.3 (its assault on iOS) literally the day after Apple announced its quarterly earnings, I was left with a sense of wonder.
What is the right metaphor for understanding the game that Google and Apple are playing to emerge as the king of the Post PC era? Is it the “Shock and Awe” of war? Is it “Microsoft vs. Apple”? Is it “The Moat”? Is it “Vertical Integration”?
Sure, it’s all of these things, but after ruminating a bit, I think the game that Google and Apple are playing is actually like professional sports, specifically the NBA playoffs. In the NBA playoffs, each team has a style that it wants to play, that leverages its unfair advantages, and exploits the competition’s weaknesses, and there are a multitude of “games within the game” and adjustments over the course of the series.
So much of winning vs. losing is enforcing your desired style of play on the competition, thereby forcing them to give up their competitive advantage. We can argue whether “open” is better than “integrated experience,” or whether “subsidized pricing” (via ads or adjunct business models) is preferred to “direct pricing” (i.e. pricing that is a direct reflection of the product).
But what is absolutely fascinating to watch is one team (Google) trying to force the other team (Apple) to abandon or water down its strategy so it has to play the first team’s game. Meanwhile, the other team (Apple) seems content to move merrily along playing its game without forcing the competition (Google) to capitulate from its game plan.
Google’s game plan is clear:
– Push cheap-to-free;
– Release a mind-numbing diversity of products, makes and models;
– Continuously report accelerating Android counts (with little context);
– Freely toggle between the open ecosystem and its own best-in-class offerings;
– Consistently mix steak (the ad business, search, gmail, maps) with sizzle (Glass, fiber, Loon, cars).
I’d actually argue that (on some level) it doesn’t matter if Google’s $35 Chromecast device is great or miserable; just that it represents a no-brainer “on-boarding” strategy for securing credit card-backed users of Google Play.
That’s the Trojan horse to getting on equal footing with Apple and Amazon in terms of securing the almighty billing relationship with the mass consumer. Plus, it’s yet another natural “halo” for embracing all things Google.
In this light, Google is playing the game of “death by a thousand cuts,” deftly operating simultaneously on offense and defense, whereas Apple seems to just be playing its game of focus, precision and execution.
Is this genius or suicide on Apple’s part? I don’t really know, but in basketball terms, it sure feels like we are approaching the pivotal Game 5 of a best-of-seven series, and it’s definitely must-see TV.
Mark Sigal is an eight-time entrepreneur, whose ventures have sold to Apple, IBM and Intel. He is chief product officer at Unicorn Labs, an eBooks and eLearning platform provider.