Apple's Post-PC Fall begins, Microsoft's doesn't

We're reaching the end of summer when Apple [AAPL] is expected to begin a flow of fresh temptations designed to give the firm top billing in the post-PC world; meanwhile Microsoft has lost the game.

The new haulage company

Microsoft has failed. The company is no longer a thought leader. It has become a relic, an antiquity, a sacred cow. Things have changed:

  • We're buying tablets rather than PCs (or Macs);
  • We're using smartphones around town;
  • We're using cloud services, virtualization and online services;

We've migrated from a PC-dominated paradigm to a new world in which, like trucks, we may use a PC for the heavy lifting while using mobile devices for most of what we do.

I'm not aiming to abuse Microsoft, nor am I delivering some pie in the sky utopian vision of how things are: this is a fair assessment of what's happening in all markets.

"The days where one can assume tablet disruptions are purely a first world problem are over," said Jay Chou, senior research analyst, Worldwide Quarterly PC Trackers at IDC. "However, the current PC usage experience falls short of meeting changing usage patterns that are spreading through all regions, especially as tablet price and performance become ever more attractive."

It's not just about tablets. It's about mobile. More specifically, the rise of mobile devices: smartphones, tablets and those devices we haven't seen make an appearance yet. Apple's iWatch tells us what time it is: Samsung's imitation confirms the world is moving to a new vision of pervasive computing.

[ABOVE: Woz urges Apple to diversify for different markets.]

Apple's Fall begins

This is why what Apple's been planning across the last few months is so important. Love it or loathe it, its adventures in the mobile space and those of its competitors show that tomorrow's computer world will be a PC taken outside the box and into your lapel, your pocket, your wristwatch, goggles and shoes. It's just how it is.

Apple has spent months preparing for its next moves in this transition. R&D spending is higher than it has ever been and the company's traditional tight-lipped secrecy (and a variety of small takeovers) confirm it has been putting together some of the pieces it needs to complete its jigsaw.

Meanwhile the technology press focuses on a series of leaked images and videos of the next iPhone. Their focus on the hardware ignores the importance of software in a post-PC paradigm. Hardware on its own is nothing without software, and software requires hardware on which to run. Yet in the post-PC environment, we're not looking at specifications, but at integrated solutions.

Within weeks Apple is expected to introduce two new iPhone models: one a top-of-the-range device equipped with fingerprint sensors; another a lower-cost ("not cheap") model designed to broaden the addressable market of the iPhone range, particularly in the pre-paid and developing world markets.

[ABOVE: Just one of the latest iPhone is champagne videos in circulation.]

Solutions matter

This isn't just about platform pre-eminence, this will be about offering solutions.  I think there are already several signs Apple intends widening the solutions inherent within its devices. There's strong indicators part of that move involves ensuring it builds a large installed base of products that will eventually be compatible with its future plans.

Reports Apple intends launching its own iPhone take-back scheme in conjunction with the iPhone upgrades indicates it really, really wants people to own a new iPhone. I suspect (but do not know) that one solution it requires this kind of installed base to offer successfully may be payment systems.

You can't undervalue the importance of elegant integrated solutions that "just work" within the Post-PC paradigm. It's also important not to ignore the lessons Apple likely learned from its embarrassing Maps introduction last year: it now knows for sure that it shouldn't ship new services until they are properly baked.

Apple's plans across the next few months don't end with iPhone: new iPads, some form of television-focused solution, the iWatch, even iTunes Radio all exist as elements to an end-to-end platform-based vision that offers an integrated and fully functional experience to its customers.

Will Apple lead?

Apple has it all to play for, of course. While its ancient foe, Microsoft is waning, it now faces others who intend grabbing a slice of the post-PC paradigm -- and that's a good thing, as the intensity of the competition should encourage all parties to do the very best they can. This hopefully means we shall never see the same kind of complacency Microsoft at first showed when malware became a scourge on the Window platform (assuming Google wakes up and acts before repeating that historical experience).

That's the new environment at this stage of the Post-PC age. That's the new computer world: a world in which Microsoft makes trucks; Apple makes solutions; and the Googleplex continues to make business.

Where are we going?

That, I suspect, is what we're going to begin to understand in the next few weeks as Apple opens up to show us what it has been planning for its Fall. It's possible the next few weeks could in time emerge to be defining moments for the technology industry.

The computer world is waiting to see if Apple delivers fresh vision, or if technology needs a new visionary.

Google+? If you're one of those who likes to use social media and also happen to be a Google+ user, why not join AppleHolic's Kool Aid Corner community and join the conversation as we pursue the spirit of the New Model Apple?

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