Tech King Cage Match: Who Wins?


With Apple struggling, Microsoft charging hard, and Google running smooth and steady, it seems like a good time to revisit which company is the true King of Tech. Each of these giants has a legitimate claim on the throne and each brings a different set of strengths and weakness to the table. While the title does not come with any special powers or privileges, the winner belongs in your portfolio.

Microsoft: The return of the king?
Microsoft was once the undisputed leader, with Windows and Office dominating the home and business arenas, but it's been years since the company was considered a real juggernaut. Lately, however, the company has made a significant push to get back in the race with the release of Windows 8 and the Surface tablet, as well as posting solid earnings. Has Microsoft done enough to retake the top spot?

In the most recent quarter, the company beat Bloomberg's average analyst expectation of $0.74 of earnings per share, reporting EPS of $0.76. While net income fell to $6.38 billion -- a 3.7% decline on a year-over-year basis -- the company had solid results in most operating units on revenue of $21.46 billion. The hard numbers look solid and certainly stable, but not necessarily enough to garner the crown.

The company was reserved in sharing specific sales figures for either the Surface tablet or Windows 8, but the device has received only a lukewarm response. One of the most important (but least covered) stories of 2013 is the need for many IT departments to finally upgrade beyond Windows XP. IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell believes that these upgrades will be accomplished through the purchase of new machines -- a real positive for Microsoft, which will discontinue XP support soon.

Finally, with the Surface Pro due to be released on Feb. 9, Microsoft may finally be able to put up some big numbers on the hardware side. Until then, however, while Microsoft is fighting back, it has a ways to go before it should be considered the king. Still, the stock looks attractive at current levels and deserves an allocation.

Apple: A fall from grace
Since Apple hit its all-time high above $700, the stock has gotten slammed back to reality. The final hit came after the company announced that it had sold 47.8 million iPhones in the most recent quarter, a mere 29% increase on a year-over-year basis . The market had been hoping to breach the 50 million unit level, and dropped the stock down an additional 12% on the news. The stock is now down over 35% since September.

On the positive side, the numbers out of China are promising. The company sold more than twice as many iPhones there that it did a year ago, and grew revenue to $7.3 billion, a 60% increase from a year earlier. The region promises to be a critical growth engine for the company, which reported it will now specifically break out the region when it reports critical statistics.

In its bid for the throne, however, Apple likely pulls up a little short. The precipitous drop in the price of the stock, coupled with letting down the market -- as unrealistic as those expectations may have been -- is not crown-worthy. While Apple had a brief glimpse at the title, it is not ready to be called the King of Tech.

Google: Slow and steady wins again
When Google reported earnings last week, the numbers were well received by the market. The company beat the Thompson Reuters consensus estimate of $10.42 of EPS on $12.34 billion of revenue; the company reported EPS of $10.59. Net income was up to $2.89 billion from $2.71 billion a year ago. With a year-over-year increase in revenue of 36% based on consolidated Google-Motorola results, the stock climbed 5% on the news.

Google, which is highly reliant on advertising clicks for revenue, saw a 6% decline in the average cost per click it was able to command. While this is a reason for some concern, total clicks jumped 24% on a year-over-year basis and 9% sequentially. Google is finding growth in advertising, even as other critical areas continue to march ahead.

Google's Android is the landslide victor in smartphones, commanding a 68.3% market share as of IDC's 2012 report. Recently, the company's Nexus 7 tablet became the best-selling tablet in Japan, the first market in which the company was able to beat out Apple's iPad. A recent report put the Nexus 7 market share at 44.1% relative to 40.1% for iPad. Overall, Google seems to be firing on all cylinders with no signs of slowing.

The crown belongs to...
The combination of the above metrics and Google's increased presence in the cloud and beyond makes the company the veritable King of Tech. The victory feels somewhat anticlimactic given that Apple all but took itself out of contention on numbers that most companies would kill for. Still Google continues to keep plugging along and dominating wherever it competes. As such, Google is an absolute buy for your portfolio.

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Fool contributor Doug Ehrman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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