Amazon, Apple, Google and the Race to Win It All

Twenty years ago, Microsoft was the company that inspired fear and awe among competitors. It owned the money gusher that was the DOS PC operating system, which begat the gusher that was the Windows operating system that enabled the gusher that was Microsoft Office. More successes followed: NT, Exchange/Outlook and Sharepoint. It seemed the company could hardly fail to dislodge any rival it targeted. It caused the decline and fall of Novell, Lotus, WordPerfect and Borland and forced IBM to reinvent itself. Coming at a time when information technology and workflow automation began to be recognised as the single most important cause of competitive differentiation among businesses, it seemed only right that Microsoft became the world’s most valuable company and Bill Gates the world’s wealthiest man. Even as regulators circled, he wanted it all.

Today, Microsoft ambitions appear footling alongside those of a wave of companies that have their eyes set on far more than computers and software. The Terrifying Trio of Amazon, Apple and Google seek yet more glittering prizes, from retail, to the home, to healthcare, to transportation, to entertainment, to advertising, to media… to pretty well everything.

Look at the Google I/O announcements, Apple’s plans and Amazon’s Willy Wonka approach to product development. It’s hard to keep up, such is the torrent of news that comes out of these usurpers. Already there are signs of a clash that could lead to years of fighting. Both Apple and Google want to control home automation so that every dial, slider and knob bears their stamp. All three are set fair for a battle to control content, its licensing and its delivery, to your digital wallet, smartphone and your tablet. And two of them want to be your laptop.

Having such fierce well-funded companies with such vaulting ambition is likely to lead to a lack of standards and battles to the last in every field. That is often thought to be a loss for the consumer and corporate customer but it might lead to a superior product set than something designed by spec committee.

Is it really a three-way race? Facebook, arguably, could make this group a Fantastic Four, but pretty much every other company in the world is out of the race.

Some would say that it might be as well to note what happened to Microsoft, which failed to translate its dominance in computing to areas such as tablets, phones and watches, despite numerous attempts. Business history suggests that companies that attempt to do multiple things well tend to fail, right?

But these new superpowers are rewriting the rules of business in an iconoclastic way, or like an artist who breaks all accepted codes and prescriptive ways of behaving. The one that succeeds best will operate across a massive canvas of interconnected dots, painting a new vision of the world like a pointillist where every dot reinforces an effect and adds strength, depth and power. 

And that company will very likely be the world’s most powerful company for years to come.


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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