When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 he found a cluttered company preoccupied with a lot of different things at the same time: digital cameras, portable CD players, speakers and game consoles, oh and Mac computers.

Meantime, its stock value was crumbling.

The first order of the day for Jobs was to line up the project engineers and chop the heads of those who failed to defend their projects as promising. One of the key employees left standing was Jonathan Ive, who would soon design the iconic styles of iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. It was a brilliant strategic move by Jobs to focus on select products, that in two years, Apple was an exciting brand again with the launch of the candy-colored luminescent iMacs. Then iPod and iTunes came and, in 2007, the thing that would propel Apple to the top: the iPhone. In all those years since Jobs got back, Apple was ruthlessly focused on a few select products and did a great job.

Then Google came out doing exactly the opposite. After dominating search, it would soon launch half-baked disparate projects in the guise of crowdsourcing: Maps, Glass, Shopping Direct, Android apps, even a driver-less car…. Consumers, developers and investors no longer see Google as a search company, but an innovative one. Just this year, Google overtook Apple in the #1 spot, as seen in this infographic comparing the most valuable brands of 2014.


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In short, Google defeated Apple by becoming the latter just before Jobs got back: a cluttered company preoccupied with a lot of different things at the same time. Did Jobs read the stars wrong?

Not quite. He was visionary, a gifted innovator, a forceful guru who would strike fear in his project engineers’ hearts to do their damn best. And that’s where we think Apple’s dilemma started. Apple engineers wanted to impress Jobs, while Google engineers knew how to play the crowd… and rule Rome.