NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Holiday sales of tablets may sort out the winners from the losers in a technology sector inundated with ambitious hardware and software rollouts. After years carving out distinct identities, Apple ( AAPL), Google ( GOOG), Microsoft ( MSFT) and Amazon ( AMZN) are sprinting toward the end of 2012 in a dogfight for mobile-device supremacy. Operating systems and apps are a big part of the story. As in past market-share grabs for the hot new tech gadget -- think the smartphone or the digital music player
otherwise known as the Apple iPod -- there's likely to be a long list of losers. PC makers are getting in on the act: Dell ( DELL) and Hewlett Packard ( HPQ), along with Barnes & Noble's ( BKS) Nook and, in early 2013, Research In Motion's ( RIMM) BlackBerry 10. The size of the competition is an indication of just how high the stakes are for a piece of the tablet market. Consumers shopping for tablets this holiday season aren't just picking hardware, they're also deciding the software and online stores they'll use for years to come -- long after this year's crop of tablets, smartphones and e-readers becomes obsolete. Winning the device battle may lead to an even richer score. There's the battle for operating systems, in this case iOS (Apple), Android (Google) and Windows 8 (Microsoft), and for interfaces such as the iTunes Store, Google Play, Nook and Amazon Prime, as consumers increasingly shop via mobile devices. The savvy among us probably have already aligned ourselves with chosen devices and operating systems, so I decided to canvass the market for tablets and e-readers with a swing voter this holiday season: my mother. A language specialist by trade, she's an able user of computer essentials such as PowerPoint, Word and Outlook. She owns a MacBook and an iPhone 4S. Still, she's yet to fully realize the capabilities of her smartphone -- outside of Siri and the camera -- and hasn't synched it with any home electronics. I suspect she's the type of prospective buyer whom tech giants are trying to win by year-end. A tablet or e-reader could pique her interest in apps, unveil the possibility of over-the-top media, and make everyday shopping and travel easier. After a Sunday spent shopping in New York City, here are three insights on the device market with three weeks left in the holiday season.