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Google Takes Aim at Apple, Setting Up Clash of Titans

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With buzz surrounding new hardware initiatives and a surging stock price, Google appears to be trying to muscle its way onto turf traditionally dominated by Apple.

In the process, some say Google is attempting to lay claim to the "cool" factor the iPhone maker has long enjoyed, despite the long odds it faces in trying to displace Apple.

The search giant's Project Glass — a computer processor embedded in a set of futuristic glasses — and Chrome laptop arrive at a time when earning money from portable devices has become the sine qua non for technology companies.

In doing so, Google also seems to be staking a claim to technology innovation. In a similar vein, Apple is under assault by doubts about its ability to continue to do the same.

For sure, Apple is unlikely to go gently into that good night. The tech giant holds a commanding lead on Google in key areas that matter.

At least for the moment, however, Wall Street is giving Google the benefit of the doubt by sending its shares to a new record above $800. As BlackBerry can attest as its stock nearly doubled in the run-up to the launch of BlackBerry 10, word of mouth can go a long way toward stoking excitement among investors.

This week, Deutsche Bank cited "emerging positives" in the mobile space that are helping to boost Google's fortunes, with the bank lifting its target on Google's stock to $935. At the same time, Apple's stock is languishing near a 52-week low below $450.

"Mobile search is getting more profitable for Google, anyway you slice the numbers," Deutsche said in its research call. As technology companies like Facebook gradually overcome doubts about their mobile strategy, "we continue to see upside to Google shares as these trends become more clear," the bank added.

So is Google shaping up to become a true competitive threat to Apple, or simply benefiting from savvy marketing? Most observers say it's the latter.

Although Apple is locked in a death match with Samsung in the smartphone wars, the iPhone is still an iconic device in ways Google can only fantasize about at this point. Meanwhile, Google's attempts to turn its Motorola Mobility into a smartphone player have, thus far, yielded little fruit.

(Read More: Will Motorola Help or Hinder Google's Hunt for Mobile Money)

"Any time a company that traditionally has not been in hardware, especially a company like Google … it's tricky," noted David Tan, assistant professor of strategy at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business.

Google could have a huge hit on its hands with Google Glass, but the company has to find a way to marry seamlessly its Internet dominance with hardware that consumers might be slow to adopt.

(Read More: An Apple Smartwatch May Boost Revenue $9 Billion: Analyst)

"Without that tight integration, the benefits aren't clear," Tan said, adding that would likely take "several years for [Glass] to become a hit like iPhone, iPad and iPod."

Apple tends to push out new products at a pace some would consider breathtaking. Last September, the iconic tech giant released new iterations of its iPhone, iPad and Mac, all within weeks of one another. A rumored "iWatch" is said to be in development, along with a television offering.

Meanwhile, Google's pace of innovation is less encouraging than it is borderline glacial. Some tech watchers point out the significant time lag between the company's emergence as an Internet giant, and its push into smartphone technology.

Even in that space, it benefits more from having Samsung as a purveyor of its Android software, and not from having its own device. In addition, there are real questions about whether cash-strapped consumers can afford to plunk down $1,500 for a cool piece of hardware that recalls Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge from "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

Even if Glass is a commercial hit, "becoming a pioneer is very risky," Georgetown's Tan said.

That is because competitors could easily learn from Google's mistakes with Glass and replicate a cheaper, more innovative product — indeed,the same way that some argue Samsung did to Apple in the smartphone market.

And as BlackBerry discovered to its eternal regret, being the top dog in a particular market with new challengers is hardly a recipe for continued dominance.

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