Fading Into Irrelevance

As technology waves come and go, the names of iconic companies follow the movements, first reaching the pinnacle of their glories, and later fading into irrelevance.

This is a tale in three acts.

Act 1

In 1981, IBM single-handedly defined a new standard of personal computers. By doing so, it became the most valuable company on the planet, and made the cover of Time Magazine. Not only that, but the company was at the origin of innovative hardware ideas, ground-breaking operating systems, and widely used programming languages.

This event, coupled with a monopolistic control of the mainframe market, led to riches, arrogance, and hubris, which prompted increased government scrutiny and antitrust lawsuits. Faithful software developers building upon IBM products and platforms started looking elsewhere.

Around 1996, IBM finally acknowledged the struggle, and despite the best efforts of Lou Gerstner, it could not ride the Web wave and slowly faded away from the collective mind. Buying companies like Lotus did not help, either. It did not disappear completely, but it certainly lost quite a bit of the influence it had just a decade before.

You see, OS/2 Warp was no match for Windows 95.

But IBM had lots of cash, and of course found a way to become relevant again, somehow, thanks to consulting and quantum computing. Oh, and lots of AI.

Act 2

In 1995, Microsoft single-handedly fulfilled its long-lasting vision of “a computer in every desk”. By doing so, it became the most valuable company on the planet, and made the cover of Time Magazine. Not only that, but the company was at the origin of innovative hardware ideas, ground-breaking operating systems, and widely used programming languages.

This event, coupled with a monopolistic control of the Wintel PC market, led to riches, arrogance, and hubris, which prompted increased government scrutiny and antitrust lawsuits. Faithful software developers building upon Microsoft products and platforms started looking elsewhere.

Around 2010, Microsoft finally acknowledged the struggle, and despite the best efforts of Steve Ballmer, it could not ride the smartphone wave and slowly faded away from the collective mind. Buying companies like Nokia did not help, either. It did not disappear completely, but it certainly lost quite a bit of the influence it had just a decade before.

You see, Windows Mobile was no match for the iPhone.

But Microsoft had lots of cash, and of course found a way to become relevant again, somehow, thanks to the cloud and JavaScript. Oh, and lots of AI.

Act 3

In 2008, Apple single-handedly released the most popular product of all time. By doing so, it became the most valuable company on the planet, and made the cover of Time Magazine. Not only that, but the company was at the origin of innovative hardware ideas, ground-breaking operating systems, and widely used programming languages.

This event, coupled with a monopolistic control of the application distribution market for their devices, led to riches, arrogance, and hubris, which prompted increased government scrutiny and antitrust lawsuits. Faithful software developers building upon Apple products and platforms started looking elsewhere.

Around 2023, Apple finally acknowledged the struggle, and despite the best efforts of Tim Cook, it could not ride the AI wave and slowly faded away from the collective mind. Buying companies like Shazam did not help, either. It did not disappear completely, but it certainly lost quite a bit of the influence it had just a decade before.

You see, Siri was no match for ChatGPT.

But Apple had lots of cash, and of course found a way to become relevant again, somehow, thanks to… something we’ve yet to discover. And most probably, lots of AI, too.

Coda

I think you get the idea: plenty of history repeating around us.

The three huge consumer technology cycles mentioned in this humble piece (the IBM PC, Windows, and the iPhone) lasted almost exactly 15 years each. It seems to me we just entered a new cycle, and it will most probably last until 2039.