Apple vs its rivals: how the tech giant ended up on top

Photograph of Apple store location
(Image credit: Apple)

As Apple gets stuck into its fourth decade of operation, we're taking a look back at some of the biggest tech rivals the firm has duked it out with over the years. Given the global reach and gargantuan profits it enjoys today, it's easy to forget that Apple started life as two people in a garage back in the 1970s. And just like any business that has survived a few decades, Apple has been on the ropes more than a few times over the years.

From surviving the dominance of IBM in the 1980s and fruitless legal battles with Microsoft in the 1990s, all the way up to today's intermittent Apple/Samsung beefing, the history of the company has been fraught with tension, rivalry and competition. Here, we're looking at all the key competitive players in the Apple story – how the rivalries played out, how they shaped and influenced the Apple story, and how they've made Apple into the company as we know it today.

What does the future hold for Apple? Even the residents of Cupertino, California don't know that for sure. Earlier this year, we donned our prognosticating hats and did our best to predict what Apple will do in 2023. While there are many exciting new products in the pipeline (see our Apple deals page if you're trying to save some money), we're expecting it to be a challenging year for both the company and its competitors, as everyone globally continues to feel the economic squeeze. 

Garage of Steve Jobs' parents on Crist Drive in Los Altos, California

The original garage owned by Steve Jobs' parents, where it all started. (Image credit: Mathieu Thouvenin via Wikimedia Commons)

Apple vs Microsoft

Microsoft logo

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft started out as a Apple ally but Windows drove a wedge between the companies. Apple fumed at Microsoft’s perceived plagiarism, but many lawsuits later Apple was almost bankrupt. In 1997 Microsoft injected cash and shored up its ailing rival, seemingly to retain ‘competition’. Apple subsequently blazed past, predicting and driving consumer hardware trends in a way Microsoft couldn’t match.

Apple vs IBM

IBM logo

(Image credit: IBM)

Big Blue killed any hope Apple had of mainstream success in the 80s. The PC’s arrival in 1981 provided an affordable alternative to anything Apple had to offer. But, over time, the rivalry thawed, showcasing the tangled relationships between tech companies. For years, PowerPC chips from an Apple-IBM-Motorola alliance were found in Macs. Today, Apple and IBM are increasing the iPad’s corporate reach together.

Apple vs Samsung

Samsung logo

(Image credit: Samsung)

One of the oddest modern-day tech relationships, Samsung and Apple are both butting heads and yet are reliant on each other. Samsung still manufactures many Apple device components, and has spent many years merrily being ‘inspired’ by the iPhone and iPad. Additionally, Samsung’s TV ads often rip into Apple, arguing its customers are brainless fools taken in by Apple’s marketing machine. Long-term, expect Apple to split entirely from Samsung.

Apple vs Dell

Dell logo

(Image credit: Dell)

One of the most famous tech quotes of all time occurred in 1997 when Dell CEO Michael Dell opined if he was put in charge of Apple he would “shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders”. He argues this was misunderstood and that he was mulling from the position of still being Dell CEO. Still, it showcased a stark difference in thinking between the two organisations

Apple vs Adobe

Adobe logo

(Image credit: Adobe)

Once, Apple and Adobe were close. But as Apple’s grip on the design industry loosened and Adobe became more bullish, cracks appeared in the relationship. This came to a head when Steve Jobs refused to support Flash on iOS, arguing it was unstable technology. Adobe griped Apple was taking away people’s freedoms, but, in reality, Flash was terrible on mobile. Apple eventually won the battle, and Flash’s presence online is rapidly diminishing.

This content originally appeared in MacFormat magazine. To subscribe to MacFormat,  visit Magazines Direct.

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Craig Grannell

Craig is an editor, writer and designer. He writes about design and tech, specialising in Mac, iPhone and iPad, and has written for Creative Bloq, Stuff, TechRadar, MacFormat, The Guardian, Retro Gamer and more. You can view more of his writing on his blog, Revert to Saved

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