Likewise, Shakespeare’s ‘What’s past is prologue‘ might give us some insight into the trials and tribulations and the future of the Apple vs. Microsoft saga that is playing out today.
Karma Is A Bitch
If Shakespeare was correct, and what’s past is prologue then history obviously influences and sets the context for the present, and should give us a heads up on the future.
When it comes to Apple, Microsoft, and the future of personal technology, I’m not so sure it’s easy to read the tea leaves to see what’s coming.
After all, Apple was crushed by Microsoft back in the OS wars of the 1980s and 1990s, which almost caused the company’s complete demise.
Microsoft defeated Apple and the Mac for many reasons, not the least of which was to license Windows (and attach Office as buyer bait) to many manufacturers while Apple went alone into that good night.
Yet, here we are, 15 or 20 years later, Microsoft is a lumbering, clumsy giant, while nimble Apple has amassed more riches than any company in history.
What happened? Can the past tell us why Apple has succeeded in recent years, and why Microsoft has not? And, can we derive from their competitive history, what will take place in the future?
The Past Is Now. Again.
Why Microsoft had early success against Apple has already been chronicled ad nauseam. Apple fell asleep for a decade or so, failed to create products with the capability of disruptive innovation, while Microsoft pummeled PC manufacturers and users into collective, monopolistic submission.
That was then and this is now.
After Apple co-founder Steve Jobs returned to the company, Microsoft appeared to fall asleep. I don’t think that’s an accurate analogy. Under CEO Steve Ballmer, Microsoft maintained their monopoly over the PC business, but failed to invent the future despite spending tens of billions of dollars trying.
Go down the list. Tablets, smartphones, search engine, consumer products, games. Despite the expenditure of untold billions, all were financial failures in the 21st century.
Disruption Is A Bitch
Meanwhile, Apple re-invented the portable media player, re-invented online music sales, re-invented the smartphone, re-invented the online app store, re-invented the tablet, and defined technology ecosystem for the masses. Still, the key word here is ‘re-invented.’
Apple didn’t really create those industry segments as much as redefine how they should operate, and they became the de facto standards. Apple’s forte as a company has been to create products with the capability of disruptive innovation.
Microsoft dominated the personal computer landscape not so much with disruptive innovation as with hard, cold, and often illegal business practices, at a time when the company’s major competitor was navigating in darkness. Since then, other attempt by Microsoft to influence a technology industry segment has met with financial failure.
If past is prologue, can we expect Microsoft to succeed, prosper, and defeat Apple in the near future?
Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia’s manufacturing business is an admission of defeat– licensing a smartphone OS when the de facto smartphone OS standard is free is not a model with legs. In every endeavor except Windows and Office, Microsoft is bleeding money. And even that once prosperous business is shrinking in the mobile millennium.
Microsoft’s competitors are now in a position of superior strength, while Microsoft is weakening. That’s a far different scenario than what occurred when Microsoft became a monopoly, and it is likely to continue for many years.