Microsoft Is On Apple’s Side Now


Jobs and Gates

When PC platforms were the central battlefield for technology, Microsoft was Apple’s big threat, hated enemy and all-purpose nemesis. But those days are gone.

Yet some Apple Faithful rage on against Redmond like abandoned Japanese soldiers on remote Pacific islands long after the end of WWII. It’s time for those Apple fans to come back to civilization understand what’s really happening now. Microsoft is more a friend than an enemy to Apple.

It’s true that Apple competes against Microsoft in a number of product areas. iPod competes against Zune. iPhone competes against Windows Phone 7 devices. Some believe iPads compete against Windows 7-based tablets. And, of course, Macs compete against Windows PCs.

But none of this competition threatens Apple.

While the Zune, Windows Phone 7 and the coming wave of Windows touch tablets may enjoy moderate success relative to other platforms and compared with past performance of Microsoft mobile platforms, none are likely to affect Apple’s dominance significantly. So while Apple’s iOS devices may be Microsoft’s White Whale, Microsoft is inconsequential to Apple in these markets.

None of Apple’s three iOS lines are threatened by anything Microsoft is doing or could conceivably do in the foreseeable future.

The iOS is under threat, but that threat is not coming from Microsoft.

In the PC space, Microsoft systems dominate, and Apple OS X devices are still in the minority. But even here, the position of Apple is enviable. Apple has grown not only total numbers, but market share year over year for quite a while. And Apple’s retail-store strategy and success of iOS devices will almost guarantee Apple’s continued high growth in the PC space.

And market-share numbers don’t tell the whole story. Apple’s OS X system owns the higher margin and recession-proof segments of the PC market. While many of those PC sales involve near zero or even lower-than-zero margins, Apple systems are healthily profitable, and growth continued right through the downturn.

When the outlook for continued growth is so bright — especially with a new version of OS X coming — it’s hard to view Microsoft as a threat or an enemy. Comparative Apple and Microsoft trend lines are all going Apple’s way.

On the whole, Microsoft’s products pose no threat to the continued fast-paced growth, high margins and general success of any Apple products.

And, of course, as always, Microsoft is an applications developer for Apple systems and users. And visa versa. Apple makes iTunes and Safari for Windows users. Microsoft benefits from Apple’s success, and Apple benefits from Microsoft’s.

Google, on the other hand, is a very serious threat.

Google competes with Apple’s tightly controlled, lovingly designed, fully “integrated” iOS devices with Android, which it gives away free to any company that wants to build a competitor to Apple.

Ultimately, Google is selling advertising. So Apple finds itself competing not against a computer company or even a software company but against an advertising company.

Everything Google does is designed to attract maximum eyeballs, so it can sell those views to advertisers. So to Apple, an iPhone is a product that it sells to customers. To Google, an Android phone is a honey pot that it uses to lure users. Those users are the product, which Google sells to advertisers.

And that’s why Google is such a threat. The company is taking its advertising billions and pouring them into any scheme it can come up with that will maximize the number of people who don’t use Apple products. At least that’s how it looks from Cupertino.

Meanwhile, where does Microsoft fit in to all this? Microsoft is in a better position to compete broadly against the Google model than Apple is.

It’s Microsoft that’s going after the Google jugular with Bing, Microsoft that’s spending its energy preventing Google from succeeding with Google Docs, Microsoft that’s working to provide an enterprise alternative to Android devices, and Microsoft that’s pushing hard to compete against Google’s advertising network with one of its own. The same goes for online e-mail, cloud-based services, browsers and more.

If Redmond, Washington were to be suddenly wiped out by a giant meteor, Google would double in size overnight — and use all those extra billions to apply even more pressure on Apple’s core businesses.

Google is the enemy now. And the company in the best position to help Apple fight the new threat is Microsoft.

So let’s stop living in the past and treating Microsoft like Apple’s enemy. Yes, Apple is fighting a bloody, existential war. But Microsoft is on Apple’s side.