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History is filled with famous rivalries, but few have matched the intensity and, quite often, the viciousness seen when two tech industry giants clash heads. Chartering their path from the dawn of computers to the current digital age, here are what we consider the five biggest rivalries in computing history, followed by a shortlist of current rivalries that have the potential to join this select list.
Apple vs. Microsoft (Jobs vs. Gates)
Easily the most famous tech rivalry of all time, the battle between Microsoft and Apple has raged since the mid-80s and continues today although to a far lesser extent. Whether it's PC vs. Mac, Windows vs. macOS, iPhone vs. Windows Mobile? (oh my), or more recently iPad vs. Surface.
Things weren’t always this way, though. The two companies worked together during the early 80s, with Microsoft developing software for the Apple II. Bill Gates even joked that his company had more people working on the Mac than Steve Jobs did.
The relationship went south after Jobs accused Gates of ripping off the Macintosh OS for Microsoft’s version of a GUI OS: Windows. When faced with this accusation, Gates famously replied:
"Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”
The first graphical interface was developed by Xerox PARC, not Apple.
The pair had a complicated relationship over the following decades. They were competitors in the home computer market, yet Apple depended on Microsoft developing applications such as Word and Excel for the Mac, so it licensed some of its technologies to its chief competitor. On the flip side, Apple pursued a copyright lawsuit against Microsoft and HP, which it ultimately lost.
Forward to 1997, Apple wasn't doing well before the company brought back Steve Jobs as part of the NeXT acquisition. During that year's Macworld Expo, Jobs infamously announced that Apple had signed a 5-year deal with Microsoft that would see the continued development of Internet Explorer and Office for the Mac. Microsoft also invested $150 million into its rival, saving it from the brink of bankruptcy.
The following decade saw Apple's Lazarus-like resurgence. iPods made the company cool again. The "I’m a Mac, I’m a PC" ads ran for about four years and 66 episodes, hammered home the Apple=hip PC=nerdy narrative. The iPhone made the company an undisputed industry leader and then some, to become the most dominant tech company in history.
These days Microsoft and Apple appear to have a fruitful relationship and in a way no longer pursue the same core interests. For a while Microsoft’s Bing search engine was used for Siri queries on the iPhone. Office for Mac and iPhone is flourishing on its own particular way. The mocking ads are still around to an extent. Tim Cook said that while they do still compete, they can partner on more things than they compete on. "I’m not a believer of holding grudges," the CEO said.
AMD vs. Intel
Intel and AMD have been around for decades. But even though both companies were founded in the late 60s, their rivalry didn’t heat up for another 20 years. Things were going well in the beginning. Intel entered into a cross-licensing agreement with AMD in 1976, and in 1982 the pair signed a technology exchange agreement, as IBM didn’t want Intel to be its sole source of chips. The PC maker demanded a second-source manufacturer for its x86 microprocessor, so a deal was signed that gave AMD access to Intel’s second-gen 286 chip technology.
The relationship started to fall apart in the mid-80s when Intel refused to give AMD a license to its 386 microprocessor. AMD said this was part of a plan for its rival to create a PC chip monopoly, and in 1987 it accused Intel of breaking the contract they signed five years earlier. AMD petitioned for arbitration, and so began years of legal battles between the pair.
In 1995, the companies agreed to settle all litigation as part of a global settlement. Intel got $58 million, while AMD got $18 million and a perpetual license to the microcode found in Intel’s 386 and 486 chips. However, more lawsuits followed, which ultimately led to a $1.4 billion EU fine against Intel based on anti-competitive practices toward AMD.
In the early 2000s, AMD was beating Intel handily for the first time with their successful Athlon chips, but the introduction of Intel’s Core architecture and the move to a tick-tock cycle model saw AMD relegated to be the budget option for over a decade.
While Intel continues to dominate the PC market at large, AMD has been relentless these past few years, gaining overwhelming goodwill in the enthusiast and builder's segment thanks to Ryzen and Threadripper processors. This technological lead has slowly permeated to other areas where Intel usually reigned unopposed but AMD is now presenting a real challenge: the highly lucrative server market and in laptops, where AMD was not at all competitive for years.
AMD GPUs are also found in gaming consoles and both Sony and Microsoft are packing Radeon graphics on their next generation consoles. On the opposite front, Intel is joining the GPU wars soon, bringing the fight to AMD not only in the consumer market but in the datacenter where GPUs are increasingly playing an important role.
Apple vs. Samsung
There are plenty of Android phones out there, but for a lot of people, it’s a question of "Galaxy or iPhone." The Cupertino company would no doubt argue that Samsung shouldn’t even be a competitor, as it ripped off Apple’s technology and designs. Thanks to four dozen patent lawsuits, the two companies sued and counter-sued each other across the courts for years. Apple even managed to get some of Samsung’s older devices banned in the US for infringing on some of its patents.
After nearly a decade of lawsuits, the companies settled in May 2018, awarding Apple $539 million that Samsung had to pay for infringing on its competitor patents. The resolution was widely seen as a win for Samsung that by then had positioned as one of only two leaders in the smartphone business.
On the consumer side, Apple fans will say that the iPhone leads the way when it comes to ease of use, apps, and arguably, style. On the other hand, Galaxy owners will tell you iPhones are overpriced, and that their phones are superior thanks to wider range of customization, expandable memory, and the openness of Android. Truth is, both of their respective flagships, are evenly matched in more areas than ever before.
Fact remains both companies have produced the most popular smartphones in the world for the last few years, with Samsung staying ahead in sales volume, while Apple is known to be the most profitable of all vendors, with an entire ecosystem of devices, services and software that have uniquely position the company.
Add to all this Samsung’s commercials that take jabs at iPhones, the animosity between the companies’ fans, and continuing accusations of copying, and you can see how this rivalry is likely to continue for many years to come.
Nintendo vs. Sega
Nintendo was founded in 1889 as a playing card company, while Sega traces its origins to 1940 as a slot machine firm based in Hawaii. Many, many years later, the pair would become fierce rivals in the world of arcade machines, handheld gaming devices, and, most famously, consoles. Sega’s arcade games made it a dominant force during the industry's golden age of 1978 to 1983, but Nintendo was experiencing success of its own with its Game & Watch handheld devices. The latter company's defining moment came when Donkey Kong arrived in arcades in 1981, bringing with it a defining icon: a carpenter called Mario (he didn't become a plumber until 1983’s Mario Bros.).
Nintendo had already dipped its toe in the home console market in 1977 with the snappily titled Color TV-Game in Japan, which was available in four variations, each one boasting six versions of a single game, such as Pong. It released the far more successful Family Computer, or Famicom for short, in Japan in 1983, the same day Sega launched its console - the SG-1000 - which turned out to be a failure for the company.
The two machines were eventually updated and redesigned for release in North America. After its prototype Nintendo Advanced Video System was met with an underwhelming response, Nintendo unleashed the NES in 1985. It went on to become the best-selling console of the era, and while Sega’s Master System came to the States in 1986 to compete with Nintendo’s machine, it couldn’t match its rival’s popularity.
The later years brought more updated consoles from companies: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and the Sega Genesis. And with it came one of the earliest and probably most famous console wars, along with rival-baiting slogans. "Genesis does what Nintendon't," claimed Sega.
Various consoles and handhelds followed, and though Sonic the Hedgehog helped put Sega on top for a while, Nintendo’s N64 and the appearance of the Sony PlayStation spelled the beginning of the end for Sega's console endeavors. The company's last -- and some would say their best -- console was the Dreamcast in 1998. The Dreamcast sold well in North America and Europe but struggled to make an impact in Japan. Not long after the PlayStation 2 arrived, Sega decided to discontinue the Dreamcast. When the last one rolled off the assembly lines in 2001, it marked the end of two decades of Sega consoles.
Nintendo remains a highly successful video game company and console maker. The Nintendo Switch has been a smashing success and the company more than ever protects its IP that includes titles such as Animal Crossing, Donkey Kong, Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Splatoon, and Pokémon.
Meanwhile, Sega now mainly acts as a game developer and publisher, it is present in various platforms including mobile/smartphone gaming, and continues to reign in the more niche arcade business. It's also present in popular culture in various forms, most prominently as of late with the film Sonic the Hedgehog, which set a new benchmark for movies based on video games.
Google vs. Apple
When HTC introduced an Android phone in January 2010 that shared many of the iPhone’s most popular features, Steve Jobs famously said: "I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong."
“I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this,” Jobs added.
Things weren’t always this way though. When the first iPhone was unveiled in 2007, it came out of the box with Google search, Google Maps, and YouTube installed on every device. But it was Google’s acquisition of mobile startup Android Inc. two years earlier that sowed the seeds of the companies’ rivalry. Jobs was especially angry at Android, taking it as a personal betrayal.
Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt was serving on Apple’s board of directors when the Android mobile platform was announced in November 2007. He remained in this position until August 2009, when he was persuaded to resign. So began the years of legal wars. Apple started patent litigation against HTC, Samsung, and Google partners such as Motorola Mobility division. Jobs had told Schmidt in 2010: “I don’t want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won’t want it. I’ve got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that’s all I want.”
Relations hit a low point in 2012 when Apple replaced Google Maps with its own mapping solution in iOS 6. The software was so bad that Tim Cook personally apologized for that not long after launch. It even led to Maps boss Scott Forstall to leave the company. The fiasco is the reason why Apple launched its public beta program for iOS.
To this day, the pair have a relationship that’s best described as complicated (see a pattern here?). The two companies still take potshots at each other and have competing products, but Google pays Apple billions each year to keep it as the default search provider on iPhones. Apple gets a cut every time an iPhone or iPad user sees a Google ad on search results. The companies also collaborate in other areas, such as YouTube.
CEO Tim Cook is believed to have a bigger fixation against Facebook and is more relaxed about Google as a competitor, in fact, he was caught saying not long ago "(Google) search engine is the best." For the better part of the last decade, Apple and Google have taken top spots as the world's most valuable brands, with Google usually sitting right below the fruity company.
Other Rivalries in the Making
Many of these don't yet possess the history or savagery to make it to our top five, but in a few years, who knows. Which do you think has the most potential?
- Nvidia vs. Intel vs. Qualcomm
- Big Tech vs. The U.S. government
- Microsoft vs. Amazon vs. Apple
- Google vs. Facebook
- Alibaba vs. Tencent
- Salesforce vs. Oracle vs. SAP
- Netflix vs. Disney vs. Amazon
- Tesla vs. the automotive industry
- SpaceX vs. Blue Origin
Editor's Note: This feature was originally published on October, 2016. We've since revised and bumped it as part of our #ThrowbackThursday initiative.
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