If you thought Pepsi - Coca Cola's counter advertisements were the summit of in-your-face competition, welcome to the tech industry - a no-holds-barred space where battles are fought daily on acquisition tables, corporate blogs, parody videos, and shooting-from-the-lip executives.
Microsoft vs. Google
While for the past few years, Google has been hitting Microsoft in several domains like productivity software, Microsoft is quick to lash out at Google every time there is talk of privacy concerns or quality of enterprise apps.
Microsoft's recent aggression has come after a decade of sly remarks and offensive advertisements from Apple and Google during which the two companies established themselves as leaders in specific domains while the number one software company in the world struggled to keep the mindshare, if not the market-share. The 'Mac vs. PC' debate from the last decade is a case in point.
Mac vs. PC
In 2006, Apple started 'Get a Mac' advertising campaign against Microsoft, challenged by the negative sentiment around Windows Vista at that time. A man dressed in casual clothes introduced himself as a Mac, while a man in a more formal suit-and-tie combination introduced himself as a PC. In their brief conversations, the PC was mocked for being overtly business focused and played on its perceived weaknesses while Macs just got things done. The multitude of ads in the series ran for three years, and gained huge popularity and earned Apple a lot of fans.
What followed could very well go down as a case study in an advertising course. Microsoft, with the newly instilled confidence from early reviews of Windows 7 and a general sense of positivity from customers in diverse segments, started a counter campaign by actually embracing the satire. The Microsoft spots typically opened with an image of Sean Siler, a Microsoft employee stating "I'm a PC, and I've been made into a stereotype". Sean Siller resembled John Hodgman, the actor who played the part of PC in Apple's 'Get a Mac' advertisements.
The $300m campaign focused on the diversity of PC users worldwide and also featured prominent personalities, including Bill Gates himself, declaring "I'm a PC" - the moniker which changed from an abuse to a compliment overnight. The deft moveneutralized the cheeky Apple campaign.
Patents, Patents, Patents
In recent times, a growing number of tech wars are not fought in research labs or marketing campaigns, but in the courtrooms. As the diversity of offerings grows, several companies find themselves employing proprietary capabilities or technologies, which the patent-owning companies would dispute.
The musical chairs over patents in the smartphone business have Apple, Samsung, HTC, Microsoft, and Motorola locked in an array of courtroom brawls around the world against each other. While Apple has accused Samsung of copying user experience elements, Microsoft has waged a war against Android handset manufacturers and has now added licensing fees from these manufacturers as a steady revenue stream!
Away from the patent brawls in the smartphone industry, Yahoo is seeking licensing fees from Facebook on 10 to 20 patents over technologies that include advertising, the personalization of Web sites, social networking and messaging. Yahoo, looking for ways to revive growth after losing to Facebook and Google, has turned to its intellectual property and threatens a lawsuit if Facebook does not enter into a licensing agreement.
While this is a growing trend, many argue that research and innovation that makes for better technology ecosystem makes a better showcase than owning technology patents and using them as a cash-cow.
While the current battles are fought over patents, the last decade was about adoption of proprietary formats with the growth of Internet services and consumer devices.
Through the first decade of 2000s, Sony and Toshiba fought over Blu-ray and HD-DVD disc format for high definition home video. These standards emerged in parallel but the when several studios and distributors shifted to Blu-ray discs in 2008 and Sony adopted Blue-ray format for PlayStation, Toshiba conceded the format war to Blu-ray and stopped the development of the HD DVD players.
Similar format wars have been fought in the decade before over streaming video (AVI, Quicktime, Windows Media, RealMedia, MPEG, DivX, XviD) and digital video formats (DVD versus DivX) as well as the digital audio formats. For a long while, Sony fiercely stayed against Apple's choice of format - AAC - but went on to adopt the same in 2006.