Apple has been quite good in recent years. It has cash in the bank, healthy income, and it still sets the bar for what a modern smartphone should be.
But while the iPhone is uniquely important, for both Apple and the device category, it's inspired by the last decade, technology companies are now maneuvering to usher in the next wave of personal computing.
The consensus is that artificial intelligence will be the key differentiator, with each device, be it a light bulb or a laptop, able to talk to each other and make decisions to adapt to their owners. Large technology firms such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft say they are now the "first AI companies." That's bad news for Apple.
The research and implementation of artificial intelligence is dominated by Google. Their free artificial intelligence tools for developers are much more than those of any competitor; all of its products use AI in some form, from Gmail to search, and now it is attacking the smartphone market with the well-received line of Pixel phones and intelligent home speakers, both building their operations around Google's voice assistant.
Amazon has made a large company selling server space for artificial intelligence applications, and has established a dominant position in the smart speaker market with its Alexa and Echo virtual personal assistant devices. The most ambitious projects of the company, such as a physical store without human tellers, depend on more and more advances in artificial intelligence.
At Microsoft, CEO Satya Nadella quickly reorganized the company to bring AI closer to its core Windows and Office products. The company also benefits from the ability to put its virtual personal assistant, Cortana, into more than 600 million machines.
This is a war that Apple was supposed to win. In 2011, while Google was beginning to form its now massive artificial intelligence team and Amazon executives were launching the Echo smart speaker, Apple had acquired a new generation of SRI Labs called Siri. It was a unique virtual personal assistant that Apple quickly transferred to its latest smartphone, the iPhone 4S.
But the launch of the technology did not work, and year after year Siri saw few significant updates. Engineers working on the project later said that the original goal was to become the "App Store for AI," but the central development problems forced that dream to one side, according to The Information (paywall). AI did not have priority in Apple in the same way as in other companies.
Since the late 1990s, Apple has been the dominant consumer electronics company, if not the dominant company in general. He revitalized his personal computers with the colorful iMac in 1998 after Steve Jobs resumed the helm. He overturned the music industry with the introduction of the iPod and iTunes, and did the same for the web with the iPhone, the App Store and its many mobile apps in 2007. His products during this period were a perfect first-class merger. (and expensive) hardware and software designed to get the best of technology. Today, the company's products are sent with errors and errors at an unprecedented speed. Do you remember that not all of us could write the letter "i" for a while?
Winning in AI is not like any fight Apple has been in for years. In recent decades, it only produced premium products when many of its competitors ran to the floor of a price war. It is less possible to do that with AI, which relies on large amounts of data to produce useful products, which generally means something that Apple detests: collecting customer data or working with others to use their own.
This is a new world for Apple, which has traditionally been very controlling in the production of its hardware and kept its software closed, even if it had been built on open source technologies. It is beginning to open slowly, even speaking at AI conferences and publishing some of his research.
Apple has not really competed in the market that it has not essentially defined since its early days on PC, when it paid Ridley Scott to make ads that define the genre about its place in the PC market. Back then, Apple was the scruffy competitor facing companies like IBM. Now, it is the largest company in the world that has multiple legitimate competitors with a lot of money in a critical market. Now he is playing catch-up in a race where the best talent is scarce and expensive.
There are indications that their efforts are increasing. Earlier this week, he hooked up with Google's top IA executive, John Giannandrea, acquiring experience in building a company around AI from scratch. We probably do not know if Apple is serious about the task of modernizing its artificial intelligence strategy until Giannandrea begins to flex its role in the company.
However, it's hard to feel bad about Apple or really consider it a helpless person. After all, the company is still on top of the world.