How the tech giants measure up

What on earth have they been up to recently? Anything to write home about?

It’s been a whirlwind few months for Microsoft, with Steve Ballmer (rightly) saying his company’s bet on Windows 8, and its emphasis on touch-screen technology, represents an “all in” moment. It has brought out new desktop, tablet and mobile phone operating systems, as well as a Microsoft-branded tablet, the Surface.

Google has been fighting back in the tablet market – something that it has struggled to make a dent in – and continues to dominate the smartphone sphere with its Android operating system, which has a market share of around 68 per cent. It may or may not be building a Maps app for the Apple App Store.

Apple has released a flurry of devices, most notably the upcoming 7.9 inch iPad Mini – a category Steve Jobs infamously said Apple wasn’t interested in. It has also released a surprise update to the iPad and a new range of ultra-thin laptops.

So what are the new releases actually like? Should I be running to the shops already?

Windows 8 has been generally well received, with the new OS well suited to the next generation of tablets. Windows Phone 8 has also been a critical hit, although it still commands a paltry 3.5 per cent market share. The Surface tablet has been criticised for failing to live up to the iPad.

The Nexus 7 has been a surprise hit. The combination of size and price (from £159) makes it a viable alternative to Apple’s offerings. It is now planning a 10 inch version.

As ever, critics and fans have been falling over themselves over the iPad Mini, although the lack of an ultra-crisp “Retina” display has counted against it.

So it’s all plain sailing, then? No problems at all?

Ha! This is still Microsoft we’re talking about. While its products have been surprisingly well received by critics, it is still facing an uphill struggle against public perception that it is a giant of yesteryear. Its decision to partner with Nokia, which suffers a similar image problem, doesn’t make things any easier.

Not exactly. Google lost $22bn from its market cap last month after it emerged that its average revenue per click had fallen, despite increased overall revenue.

The word “Maps” springs to mind. In an unusual own goal, Apple rushed out its Maps software for iOS 6, which users complained was still essentially a Beta release and was riddled with errors.

How are the men at the top perceived? Any chance of someone losing their job?

If you were a betting man, your cash would be on Steve Ballmer to be the one to go. He wasn’t kidding that Microsoft was “all in” – and his job is included. If Windows Phone 8 and the Surface tablet tank, he will probably go.

No chance. Executive chairman Eric Schmidt (pictured) and chief executive Larry Page are rock solid, despite the “blip” in the recent results. Together they have carved out an unbelievable portfolio of products.

Tim Cook is as safe as houses. He has overseen Apple rising to its highest ever share price and demonstrated a reassuringly ruthless streak when he forced out one of Steve Jobs’ favourite employees, Scott Forstall, who oversaw Maps.

So what is next? Should we brace for any major surprises in the near future?

No. Ballmer has played his hand. Now it’s “squeaky bum time” for the Microsoft boss while he sees if he’s done enough to rejuvenate the company and save his skin.

Google is constantly developing something or other. A Maps app for iOS is a racing certainty, although it will probably take its time and let Apple stew for a while. It’s most exciting new venture is Project Glass, a pair of digital glasses that overlays Augmented Reality data over your vision.

It has been a very busy few months for Apple, which is famous for its limited product line-up. With the iPhone 5, iOS 6, a new iPad, the iPad Mini and a new range of laptops, expect the firm to sit back and watch the cash roll in for a while.

So who’s the best? If you absolutely had to pick one...

Hmm, well, it’s not Microsoft. This isn’t to say the company hasn’t exceeded almost all expectations with its recent releases but it was starting from a far lower level and has a long way to go before it is spoken of in the same breath as Google and Apple. Definitely sitting in last place for the forseeable future.

Flip a coin between Google and Apple. They have entirely different ideas of how the next generation of technology will work. Google has bet on open source, allowing developers free reign with its software. It is certainly miles ahead in Augmented Reality, which will be the next big thing in advertising.

Again, I hate to disappoint you, but it’s a tie. Apple is the world’s biggest company with a cash pile of over $100bn, which is mind-boggling. However, it still relies on a relatively narrow product range, which makes it vulnerable. Having said that, it continues to make the best products by a wide margin.

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April 22, 2014, 2:25pm