We are entering the age of cheap hardware, standardisation, and subscription services

Software and platforms are everything, hardware whilst new and if exclusive is also a powerful asset, albeit a short lived one as most hardware soon becomes a commodity.

It is interesting how Google decided to play the game and I believe it may force an industry-wide cataclysm where to compete the other major platform\ecosystem vendors will have to offer hardware at near cost price which will be manufactured through a select few OEM partners, with the rest either going extinct or working on ultra-low profit margins and or catering to niche markets unless they too can offer some services with their product.

So getting customers into the ecosystem and having them use your services, store, search etc. is priority number one these days and if this means selling hardware at cost price or even at a loss the major ecosystem vendors will do it I believe. Even Apple's hardware and design language looks like it will become a commodity soon.

The other big thing is conventions and standards, which if not adopted throughout the industry will always see Apple leading the pack. For Microsoft and Google I think it will be either they go all in-house hardware or have the other OEM's license the connector interfaces, even forms etc. Otherwise it would be chaos, for instance you would buy a Lenovo Windows Phone or tablet and not be able to connect it to a speaker dock made for Nokia devices etc. Dunno maybe the main two OEM's can get by without this, but not the smaller guys.

Google's services are excellent, likely the best out there and the edge Microsoft has in enterprise/legacy software, software technologies as well as having a dominant PC presence is becoming less relevant as Android matures. Even if Windows 8 is largely superior as an OS/Platform to Android it would still not justify a large price difference.

As we hear rumours that Apple is set to release a cheaper iPad and with Google Nexus 7 tablet coming Microsoft's "Surface" may get substantially undercut in price unless they have a cheaper variant of surface in the works too.

Such a turn in the market would produce an effect spanning multiple industries, some of the most effected will be:

OEM's not selected to be hardware partners will take the biggest hit.

Retail outlets dealing in consumer electronics would be bypassed with people purchasing from Microsoft, Apple, Samsung store or online etc. The carriers are becoming the new "PC retailer" where you can now get phones, tablets etc. on plan.

What I am most fascinated by is how with ongoing inflation, financial crisis's etc. The price of hardware just keep on falling. By mid 2013 we are look at top notch tablets at around the $380 mark, good Ultrabooks around $700 and so on. Good for the consumer I suppose but most certainly not for others mentioned above.

Google's recent actions with Gnex7 take it to that next level. Google is basically saying have my OS for free, have all my ad-supported yet still top notch productivity and communications web services and other 1st party software for free, have my now quality hardware at cost price. The consumer can have everything for free/cost price as long as it's our search and web services that the "sellers/businesses" use for advertising and other paid services. Google is pressing the industry in this direction because this model greatly favours it over the competition whose web services and their popularity are not up to par.

This is largely why we are seeing the amount of litigation aimed at Android/Google, the competitors are trying to make Android\Google ecosystem as costly for OEM's and customers as possible in order not to be eventually knocked out by near identical products which are free.

Taking all that into account to me Apple now seems like the worst of the big three companies to invest in. It has both a hardware niche that is due to become a commodity and an outdated software platform and almost no free services.