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BLOG: Why the PC makers and Microsoft will never beat Apple

Galen Gruman | Oct. 1, 2012
Pretty cases for laptops aren't why Apple's sales continue to grow and PC sales stagger

But where PCs really fall down is in the extended ecosystem, where the variety of possible hardware makes it difficult for any one PC maker to create the equivalent of AirDrop zero-configuration file sharing, iTunes media management, AirPlay streaming, or Time Machine automated backup and versioning. Apple provides a wealth of services, not just computing devices. PC makers need Microsoft to do that before they can nurse any hope of the technologies working across a large spectrum of devices. Apple's proprietary nature solves that challenge in the OS X world.

Microsoft now seems to understand the advantage of a tighter ecosystem, as Windows 8 attests. Windows 8 adds the equivalents of iCloud and Time Machine, for example. But there's no native equivalent to AirPlay or AirPrint. For streaming, Microsoft could impose a standard on DLNA streaming, which is deployed in a highly fractured way in many consumer electronics and Android devices. Until it does, companies like HP and Dell are stuck. They can go all-proprietary, as Samsung has tried in the Android environment to poor effect -- or just wait.

Similarly, look at how Apple has approached the slow integration of OS X and iOS, bringing increasing touch capabilities to OS X, while providing simple hardware (the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad) to retrofit almost any Mac for touch. In the PC world, Windows itself has limited touch capabilities that don't work well, and you need to buy a new PC to get touch capabilities. That's a sure way to create a confusing, fractured ecosystem. The supposedly touch-savvy Windows 8 shows that in spades.

I don't mean to suggest for a moment that Apple is perfect; its handling of the iPhone 5's new screen dimensions and Lightning connector port shows it too can neglect its ecosystem. But because Apple runs the whole show, it can design the whole experience. By contrast, the Windows universe is a federation of hardware, operating system, application, and service providers that will always have some stitched-together qualities. In that world, the company that pits the guts in a case and installs someone else's OS and apps can only play with the surface attributes.

The real problem that HP and other PC makers face is not that their PCs are ungainly -- some are, some are not -- but that users are both beguiled by the holistic experience they get from Apple and entranced by the new style of post-PC computing that the iPad, iPhone, and Android represent.


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