Apple mapped the direction its technology stack will take at last week’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC).
In Apple’s world, PCs are distinct from smartphones and both are different from tablets.
Apple offers different devices for different parts of your life. Smartphone when on the run, tablet when on the sofa, PC when at a desk or whatever else you choose.
With Apple each device class plays its own role. Hardware, software and user interfaces are optimised to take advantage of the differences.
Apple aims for integration
Apple calls this continuity. While each device offers a different experience and there are different user interfaces, you can move smoothly between them.
This already works to a degree with Apple kit. However Apple upped the ante at WWDC announcing changes to make for even smoother handoff as you move from one device to another.
One other thing is clear. Apple sees mobile phones as central, tablets and PCs are, in effect, secondary. This means you’re going to need an iPhone to get all the benefits of owning other Apple kit.
Microsoft puts PC centre stage
Microsoft’s technology stack centres on the personal computer. Or, perhaps, whatever the PC becomes next.
What that means in practice is Microsoft tablets and phones are extensions of the Windows PC. The Windows you see on a desktop PC is the same, or almost the same, on a Microsoft tablet or a Windows Phone.
Microsoft talks about being consistent.
When you use Microsoft kit you can move smoothly between devices because they all look and run in much the same way. You only need to learn how to use one user interface. Up to a point, all the skill gained with one Windows device is instantly transferable to other Windows devices.
Apple, Microsoft roots
The contrasting philosophies stem from each company’s history.
Apple’s success came after realising a phone could do 90 percent of what PCs can do. It may not sell as many iOS phones as the massed ranks of Androids, but it dominates smartphones in other ways.
It also dominates the tablet market. Putting its most successful product at the core of its strategy is understandable.
Likewise, Microsoft dominates PCs. While personal computers are not growing, they are not heading for immediate extinction. Microsoft aims to have them evolve into something new.
It makes sense for Microsoft to come at 2014 technology from a PC-centric point of view.
There is no clear right or wrong here. Apple and Microsoft offer two distinct visions. They could end up at the same destination while travelling on different paths.
Apple and Microsoft have been strong in hardware and software. Services sit at the third corner of the modern personal technology triangle. That’s where Google comes from, Apple and Microsoft are only now picking up momentum in services.
Google beats both with its services. Google search, mail, online collaboration and so on are central to the company’s offering. It is a relatively late entrant into hardware and software.
For now, Google is the dominant name in personal cloud services. Because all the hard work is done remotely on massive server farms, Google sees hardware and client software as secondary. It leaves most of the hardware part of its world to partners.
It would be wrong to see any one of these three strategies as better. They represent choice and your choices are clearer today than they were even six months ago.
It’s possible the three companies will diverge. It’s just as possible they’ll converge.
It sounds contradictory, but I expect a little of both. By that, I mean if one company gets a clear upper hand in any area, the other two will move to counter the threat.
Alternatively a fourth player could come along and upset the balance of power.
Either way the market is dynamic. My analysis is just a snapshot in time. It’s unlikely things will look the same 18 months from now let alone five years.