Roughly a year before he died, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs sent an email to company executives detailing the company’s strategy.
As reposted on Quartz in 2014, the email (written in October 2010) suggested that the tech industry had entered a “post-PC era,” and that 2011 would not only be “Year of the Cloud” but also see the continuation of Apple’s “Holy War with Google.” (Jobs spent the last years of his life incensed over Android, which he viewed as a rip-off of Apple’s iOS.)
Jobs outlined some potential pitfalls for Apple in the coming years, including the risk that the company would hang on to the “old paradigm” for too long. “Google and Microsoft are further along on the technology,” he added, “but haven’t quite figured it out yet.”
While Jobs had no way of predicting the future, some of his notes in the email have turned out remarkably prescient. Critics and pundits routinely complain that Apple hasn’t found a way to evolve past the core suite of products that made it such a dominant force over the past decade. In addition, Google and Microsoft are developing portfolios of high-end, next-generation products.
Earlier this year, Google launched the Pixel, a high-end smartphone meant to compete head-to-head against Apple’s iPhone; in November, it will release Google Home, a voice-activated device that leverages artificial intelligence to handle a broad swath of activities, from playing music to controlling devices around the house. These two products highlight Google’s renewed push into mobility and artificial intelligence.
Microsoft has likewise made no secret of its intention to rule the nascent artificial-intelligence market. Its executives claim that “machine learning” will find its way into the entirety of the company’s software suite. If that wasn’t enough, Microsoft’s newest generation of devices—most notably the desktop Surface Studio and Surface Book laptop—could challenge Apple’s longtime dominance of high-end hardware.
In other words, Apple finds itself under refreshed attack on a number of fronts: artificial intelligence (and by extension, software and cloud), mobility, and hardware.
That’s not to say that Apple is in imminent danger of collapse. Quite the contrary: the company continues to generate an immense amount of revenue every quarter, and every device it releases is guaranteed to sell millions of units. The Apple Watch, its most recent attempt to expand into new hardware areas, seized a considerable portion of the market for “smartwatches” (even if the smartwatch market as a whole faces significant headwinds).
But in tech, today’s dominant player can quickly become an underdog. Google (and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft) already have the momentum when it comes to artificial intelligence, which pundits predict will govern the evolution of the industry for decades to come. True to Jobs’ word, Apple must seize the new paradigm, or it risks being left behind. (Apple’s stance on user privacy may also complicate things, as it could make it more difficult for its artificial-intelligence initiatives to slurp up enormous amounts of data.)
Not everything in that long-ago email panned out for Apple. As much as Jobs wanted a “Holy War” against Android, the operating system continues to thrive. Although Apple has continued to grow in the years since his death, the company’s rivals remain strong.