In this era of apps and clouds, the old Apple vs. Microsoft dichotomy is giving way to a superpower triumvirate: Amazon, Apple, and Google. Only these combine hardware, media, apps, and cloud storage — and connect them for consumers — as personal computing becomes a layer spread throughout our lives, rather than a discrete sector.
Specifically, these three companies:
1. Build and/or sell devices for media consumption (Amazon Kindle Fire being the newcomer);
2. Sell and/or rent media from the world’s major media companies (once Google’s oft-reported music service launches);
3. Sell apps from a wide range of developers (iTunes, Android Market, and the Amazon Appstore); and
4. Run online storage lockers that can store media and hook into apps, which brings all sorts of “sticky” benefits.
(Granted, Amazon’s tablet runs the open-source Google Android operating system, but its hardware connects to a formidable media distribution empire comprising books, movies, and music.)
You might notice two big omissions from this list — Facebook and Microsoft — but those were intentional.
Facebook is half web destination (like Yahoo) and half communications protocol (combining Twitter-like status updates, Flickr-like media sharing, and, now, Last.fm-like scrobbling). Its advantages in those areas make Facebook a huge presence, but Facebook functions more like a privatized area of the internet than a product in and of itself. You access Facebook using other companies’ stuff — and it often makes that stuff better — but its power lies in the people who use it, and there’s no guarantee they always will.
Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 is actually a great operating system, but few people use it or make apps for it. And while Microsoft sells music and has a great gaming/media platform in XBox, it hasn’t launched a cloud media locker — perhaps hoping that consumers will serve media to themselves from Windows Media Center desktops.
Desktops and laptops will continue to be important devices, which means Microsoft is still an important personal computing company. But its operating system becomes less important in the connected context of the web, apps, and portables, because their main function is to connect to the web, apps, and the cloud, the same way everything else does.
Somehow, Apple, the underdog during the desktop era, is arguably best positioned out of the new big 3 (especially in the app area, where its dominance continues to freak people out). Microsoft didn’t even make the list.
(Admittedly, anyone can make a list; we welcome your thoughts and suggestions on the matter.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/theaucitron