Apple vs. Google: Which titan will crumble first?

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Who's your money on?
Who is your money on?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Like every other company, Apple and Google have had their share of highs and lows in the past — but one thing that’s for sure is that neither of them can keep going from strength-to-strength indefinitely; they’ll both stumble at some point in the future.

Friday-Night-Fights-bug-2But which will be the first to take a tumble?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight between Cult of Android and Cult of Mac as we battle it out over that very question!

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke Dormehl (Writer, Cult of Mac): It’s Friday again, Killian, my old frenemy, which means just one thing: Friday Night Fights.

Axl Rose once reminded us that nothing lasts forever — not cold November rain, and not the dominance of any one tech company, either. Google and Apple have been directly competing with each other for around a decade now, and both have had their fair share of ups and downs. But which will stumble first?

I presume that you, as the defender of all things green and malware-riddled, will say Apple. Right?

Killian-FNFKillian Bell (Writer, Cult of Android): Wise words there from Rose. I have a feeling I’ll be borrowing some more of his lyrics throughout this fight as you take another battering. There’s something in your eyes, Luke. Don’t hang your head in sorrow, and please don’t cry.

Anyway… I think it’s hard to imagine either company stumbling right now, but I do think Google has more stability. It has so many fingers in so many pies, that even if one of them goes sour, there are other hugely successful products to fall back on. Plus I just can’t envisage a future in which we don’t need Google search.

Apple’s currently riding on the iPhone in many ways, with iPod and iPad sales falling. And the problem with that is, one wrong move could result in catastrophe. Apple had a very small taste of this when customers started flocking to Android because it refused to offer a smartphone with a larger display, and it could happen again on a larger scale.

I’m not saying it will; I love the iPhone and I’m sure Apple will continue to make it even better every year. But if we were to see a string of disappointing refreshes later on, and iPhone sales began to fall, it would really hit Apple hard.

For how long can the iPhone continue killing it?
For how long can the iPhone continue killing it?
Photo: Apple

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: Geez, talk about hedging your bets, Killian. The question is which company will stumble first. Your apologetic writing sounds like you’re trying to get out of a speeding ticket.

The reality, though, is that while Google may have its fingers in a lot of pies, barely any of them are making it money. Google’s cash comes from one place: ad revenue, and with ad-blockers becoming more and more prevalent I wouldn’t be surprised if it runs into problems sometime in the near future. I love a lot of the Google services, but I still can’t shake the feeling that the company get very, very lucky early on with AdWords and has basically been milking that ever since.

Apple, by comparison, is close to celebrating its 40th anniversary — and it’s reinvented itself countless times since then. The iPhone is the big moneymaker, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the company’s other product categories are doing awfully. For instance, there was a report just a couple of years ago stating that if Apple spun out the iPad as its own business, it would be more valuable than McDonald’s. That’s amazing!

The Apple Watch is taking a big slice out of consumer watch sales, too, and let’s not ignore possible innovations like an Apple Car on the horizon. Apple has a record that speaks for itself.

Google is run by dreamers and, while there’s definitely a place for that in tech, people who dream all the time also tend not to watch where they’re going. Magic 8 Ball says: Stumble may be imminent.

Killian-FNFKillian: That’s fantastic, but that report is from January 2013, and I think you’ll find iPad sales have fallen almost every quarter ever since. But that’s besides the point.

I’m not saying the iPad and Apple’s other businesses aren’t successful on their own; if Apple announced today it was giving up on iPhone and iPad and everything else, and was only going to sell Macs from now on, it would still be an incredibly successful company. But nowhere near as successful as it is right now.

And yes, I know the question was which company would stumble first — not which one’s going to go broke first — which is why my money’s on Apple; a significant drop in iPhone sales could not be considered anything less than a stumble. But it’s hard to imagine a Google product that could fall as easily.

You mention ads, and you do have a point there, but the percentage of people using ad blockers is still small in the grand scheme of things. And with mobile devices becoming increasingly popular, it’s never been more difficult to avoid ads; they’re in our apps and games, they’re in our social network feeds, they’re in our emails, they play before every video we watch, and they’re on the web.

Ad blockers aren’t so easy to come by on mobile — Google has already begun blocking them on Android — and advertisers will always find new ways to make sure we can’t avoid ads. I don’t think that will ever change, so I don’t think we should be too concerned about Google’s ad business.

Google could also find new ways to monetize Android if it needed to — though I don’t think it will — and with more than 1 billion users worldwide, it could make plenty of cash from it. It has already launched its own mobile network in Project Fi, and as that grows, I’m sure there will be plenty of money to make from that.

Google's just getting started with Project Fi.
Google’s just getting started with Project Fi.
Photo: Google

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: So when are you predicting this catastrophic iPhone stumble then? Because we should probably add your name to the Apple Death Knell Counter.

I simply can’t agree that Apple is more likely to stumble first. The iPhone business goes from strength to strength and, as you’ve pointed out, Apple’s other businesses still make it an enormously successful business. Google, on the other hand, certainly faces challenges in the future.

It aims too wide with its ambitions, which this new Alphabet restructuring seems to be an admission of. The reality is that Google has already stumbled plenty of times. Google Glass, anyone? Do you even remember Google Catalog Search, Killian? What about the weirdly-Apple sounding iGoogle?

If any of these disasters had happened to Apple, people would be climbing over each other to proclaim the end of Cupertino’s reign. But Google just isn’t held to the same standards. It’s got a very successful business, but it’s one that faces arguably more challenges in the long-term than Apple’s iPhone business.

Killian-FNFKillian: I think you’re missing my point a little.

None of Google’s failures were its biggest businesses. Let’s just forget Google Glass, because it was never supposed to be a major success (it was explicitly referred to as a prototype meant only for early “explorers,” and priced at $1,500). As for Catalog Search and iGoogle, they were nowhere near major successes, so Google never relied on them in the same way that it relies on ads, or Apple relies on the iPhone today.

But my point is this: if were were to ignore the smaller businesses that these companies don’t rely on quite so much, and just focus on the big ones that are really holding them up, I think it’s harder to imagine Google’s falling quite as easily as Apple’s could.

The smartphone business is incredibly turbulent. The iPhone is doing extremely well now, and it probably will for the foreseeable future — but let’s not forget that Samsung’s devices have been immensely successful, too, and now the South Korean company is trying its hardest to fight falling sales.

I’m not saying Google won’t have failures — any company that experiments as much as Google does is going to produce a few flops here and there. But its big businesses are stable, and I’m betting they will continue to be stable even after we’re all bored of the iPhone.

Google Glass wasn't meant to be a big success... yet.
Google Glass wasn’t meant to be a big success… yet.
Photo: Google

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: I think you’re missing a trick if you think search is going to remain stable going forward, particularly as technology gets better at predicting what we’re looking for and new types of search (images, for instance) become the norm.

Google may be dominating right now, but it’s far from the company Apple is — and I can’t see Apple falling to its level any time soon. But enough of the squabbling between us. Let’s let the readers chip in.

Sooner or later, Apple or Google’s got to make a major misstep, regardless of how successful they may be right now. So which one do you think it’s going to be? And, more importantly, why?

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?