Apple vs. Google vs. Microsoft: Battle for digital supremacy

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So it was Jobs who should have felt triumphant. Apple ruled. Companies and consultants had begun to try to distil and reproduce 'the Apple secret', the one that had forced Microsoft to alter direction not once but three times: over music players, then phone design and then tablet interface design. Like Archimedes understanding the physics of levers and commenting that, given a place to stand on, he could move the Earth, Apple had moved the computer industry - and industries beyond it. The music business, the phone manufacturing business, the mobile carrier business, the computer tablet business: all had been transformed.

The idea that the horizontal model was the 'best' was no longer taken as read. The idea that you might want to build a company that would design the hardware and write the software too wasn't nonsense. When Google had bought Motorola Mobility in August, many thought the purpose was to mimic Apple, and create its own vertically integrated smartphone and tablet business. Amazon, the internet retailer that is a geographical companion to Microsoft, had followed Apple into the vertical model by designing its own Kindle e-reader, and then following that with its own tablet (based, ironically, on its own version of Android uncertified by Google) late in September 2011. In tablets, Amazon already looked the likely most successful rival to Apple.

But the success was bittersweet. Jobs was dying. He had been on medical leave since January, when his letter to Apple staff, released to the media, said that he would 'focus on my health' - and added that 'I love Apple so much and hope to be back as soon as I can.' Even that showed his meticulous attention to detail and the ability to rouse emotion: the use of 'love' sounds like a boyfriend being sundered from his first crush.

Though he had popped up a few times through the year in public - launching the iPad 2, introducing the next version of iOS, finally in June lobbying Cupertino town council over Apple's proposed new head¬quarters - paparazzi photos in August had suggested he was losing muscle mass rapidly to cancer. Yet he would not be hurried; once again he managed the moment perfectly, releasing a statement to the board later that month saying that "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come." He "strongly recommended" that the board "execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple." (That Apple had a succession plan came as a surprise to analysts and shareholders who had repeatedly asked the company to specify what, if any, plans there were if Jobs were to fall under a bus, and been rebuffed.) He asked to be made chairman (a role largely seen inside Apple as a sinecure). The board acquiesced to all his demands.

"I believe Apple's brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it," Jobs wrote. "And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role. I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you."

No self-pity; no self-regard; no self-congratulation. Once more Jobs offered a glimpse of the focus that fuelled his success.

The tributes poured in, from people who had known him a little or a lot. Many of course thought it must be the immediate precursor to his death. (It wasn't.) But there was a sense that the world of technology, and of business, would not see his like again. The questions began: would Apple be able to spot the ideas with real potential and turn them into hits as it had? Would the gestalt of Cook, Phil Schiller, Scott Forstall and Jonathan Ive add up to the ubermensch of Jobs?

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