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Google, Like Apple, Seeks to Unify the Large and Small Screens

The latest announcements from Apple and Google indicate both tech giants want to eliminate all barriers between the phone, the PC and the TV.

The latest announcements from Apple and Google may have appeared very different at first glance, but beyond the flashy animations and endless technical specs, the two tech titans share a common goal: to eliminate all barriers between the phone, the PC and the TV — and anything else that comes along.

"The whole vision for connected devices is starting to play out," David Berkowitz, chief marketing officer of consulting agency MRY, said in a phone interview with NBC News. "As soon as they introduce a device, they have to show it linking with everything else out there."

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You may remember "Continuity," Apple's name for a set of features it unveiled early this month that lets your iPhone pass an email in progress to your iMac, or send an incoming phone call to your MacBook or iPad.

Maps, games, and other apps can be mirrored and operated using a Chromebook or smartwatch.Google

Google showed a few similar features at its I/O developers conference on Wednesday: control a show's playback with your smartwatch, or mirror a video or document on your TV or Chromebook.

The features don't have a fancy name yet, but the idea is the same. Both companies know that users hate to be interrupted, or to see obvious lapses in connectivity. Why does a so-called "smartphone" not know you just put it down to go work on your laptop, or that you're sitting in front of your TV?

Eliminating those disconnects serves two purposes. Frictionless interaction between devices is just a cool feature, for one thing. But it also ties users more tightly to the service ecosystem. After all, if your Apple mail transfers seamlessly between phone and laptop, there's less of a chance you're going to finish that email in another app — perhaps a competitor's.

Before Apple's Continuity, a call while at your laptop might have been handled by something like Skype.Apple

Instead, both Google and Apple want you to stop thinking about your phone and laptop (among other things) as individual devices with distinct apps — and start thinking of them as windows that look out onto the same familiar landscape, maintained and presented by the company itself. The size of the screen might change, but what's behind it doesn't.

Both companies are also building central repositories for data from the "Internet of Things" as well. Google Fit and Apple's Healthkit want to put all your fitness data there rather than use apps from Nike or FitBit — and similar databases are being built for your home, car, and so on.

"They're building a foundation for something that is going to be a very big deal in a couple years," said Berkowitz. "The idea of Google owning a company known for making thermostats a few years ago would have seemed absurd. But now it makes total sense."

It may sound vaguely sinister, but the alternative is hopelessly complicated. Say you have a fitness tracker, a smartwatch, a Nest, an iPhone, a laptop, a desktop and a TV (or two). The various overlapping and non-overlapping accounts, apps and data sets might drive anyone nuts! If Google offers to take care of it all automatically, there are many who will take them up on it.

This broad, persistent, all-encompassing platform is what the tech giants aim to provide, and the latest features not only make it bigger and better, but cover up the cracks. Whether you trust them with all that data, however, is up to you.