You know what they say about life, right? “What goes up, must come down.” And, another favorite, “What goes around comes around.” In other words, things change. One day you’re on top, the next day you and your new friends are on the bottom.
So it has been in the 40 years of war between Apple and Microsoft, between the Mac and Windows PCs, and more recently Apple’s iPhone and iPad vs. uh, well, not so much Microsoft as Google’s Android, but that’s a different story to be addressed at a later time. Today it’s Apple’s growing problem with Microsoft.
What Goes Around
Here’s how the history shaped up over the past 40 years or so. Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs introduced the Mac, the first point-and-click GUI for the masses. Microsoft made software for the Mac but also licensed and stole the Mac OS interface to create Windows. Then, Windows dominated the Mac and Apple fell into disrepair and almost landed on eBay.
A resurrected Apple managed to plod along with the Mac, Apple Stores, then the iPod and iTunes, and always the lazy hare in the race with Apple, Microsoft slumbered for a decade while Apple reinvented the mobile industry of smartphones and tablets. What goes around comes around.
Well, here we are in 2016 and it’s Microsoft that has been resurrected from a Rip Van Winkle-like technology slumber, and with a new CEO, has managed to reinvent itself. Along the way Microsoft decided to do what Apple does best– hardware and software integration– and reinvented the traditional PC into a tablet hybrid device and kick Apple’s butt in the marketplace (at least, on TV ads). What goes around comes around.
While many of Apple’s faithful appreciate the new MacBook Pro models and the sliver of eye candy in the Touch Bar, Microsoft continues to tweak and improve the touchscreen Windows Surface PCs and even launched an iMac competitor; an all-in-one desktop that doubles down as a touchscreen tablet. A big, giant, unwieldy tablet, but a tablet-like device nonetheless.
Worse, some of the best new software of the past few years has not come from Apple. It’s from Microsoft which now ships Office for Mac and Windows, and iPad, iPhone, and Android devices. That means Office is everywhere. Apple’s iWork suite of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote appear a bit lame by comparison.
Microsoft’s newfound love affair with Windows touchscreen devices still hasn’t caught the traditional PC world on fire and sales have suffered even while Microsoft’s own hardware grows in number (and size). But the Mac hasn’t exactly weathered the post-PC era, either with the new MBP models the only Macs upgraded recently, and some, including the high end Mac Pro having never been upgraded since it was introduced three years ago.
What all this means is that Apple appears to be the hare in the race, and has settled down for a long slumber in Cupertino, while the Redmond beast has been resurrected and works feverishly to compete at every level– hardware, software, and cloud services; the latter an area of anemia for Apple.
Less than a decade ago it was Microsoft on the cusp of a resurgent Apple, the same company that reinvented the smartphone and tablet, launched the world’s most successful app stores, and seemed poised to lead technology well into the 21st century.
Apple seems to have fallen asleep and cranks out products more slowly than ever, and hasn’t conquered a new technology industry since the iPhone itself. iPad sales are down to stagnant. Mac sales are down. The only hopefuls in the Apple quiver are the Watch and Services, both of which are profitable but cannot carry the iPhone maker much beyond where it exists today.
Apple has a Microsoft problem in that Microsoft is playing like Apple played just a decade ago, while our favorite Mac maker seems to have dozed off.