Great Technology Rivalries: The battle to be the best

The push for perfection when it comes to technology often throws up rivalries and debates – with competing companies and technologies battling to be the best. Being seen and known as a market leader is important. It confirms you as the go-to choice and can cause your rivals to fall in line behind you – and it’s why winning the race can be lucrative.

There have been many great technology debates and rivalries over the years and these offer up lessons into what makes for a success or, at the very least, what helps companies to avoid defeat.

The videotape format wars: A lesson from history

One rivalry that we can learn a lot from, even today, was the so-called “videotape format war” of the late 1970s and early 1980s. This was a battle to establish the dominant technology for video recorders at a time when they were becoming an extremely popular piece of kit in homes around the world.

The battle here was between VHS and Betamax tape formats. VHS was the brainchild of JVC and Betamax the format of choice for Sony. Sitting in 2017, and a distinctly post video recorder world, the technology itself is less important than the outcome – a victory for VHS – and the reason.

In essence this boils down to the fact that VHS was much better at addressing the “whole product model”. That means JVC understood how this product fitted into the lives of the users and the considerations needed to give it that wider appeal. This was not just about the minor technical details – but making sure that the product could cater for the needs of the people buying it (eg longer tape lengths) and could be easily and readily bought in shops (with plenty of manufacturers licensed to sell players and recorders).

Having a “whole product” focus – by thinking how an item fits into the wider picture – is necessary for any business looking to become a market leader. The best product could fall flat on its face if the tools needed to use it aren’t available or up to scratch.

Google vs Apple: The fight to innovate

Some rivalries aren’t so decisive. Indeed, some businesses are engaged in a near-constant battle to maintain their position.

Google and Apple are two good examples. Google has sewn up the search market and Apple has largely overcome rivals when it comes to setting the bar for smartphones (albeit with Samsung giving strong competition).

Yet, while Google seems prepared to accept Apple has won the battle over smartphones, it think it can “win the war” by setting its sights on creating the best smartphone.

Huge companies such as this cannot afford to stand still. They want to be first, but if they can’t be first then they have to try to be the best.

We can see this too in the video game market – with Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo in a never-ending race to put out pioneering products that will attract their share of a $99.6 billion industry.

Debates present opportunities

Where there is a debate or a choice over technology, there is an opportunity. While two competing technologies might try to win out – there’s also a chance for another format to come to the party and settle a debate and win the day decisively.

For years, offset vs digital printing was an issue to be weighed up by businesses – who had to decide between factors such as cost, quality and speed. Now Landa has spotted that there’s a chance to try to deliver a product that has the strengths of both offset and digital and, after revealing its printers last year, will be shipping the first out in 2017. If it proves a success, it’ll cash in on “settling a debate” once and for all.

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