Sure, the two tech giants compete directly, but one is the market leader and the other is just getting off the ground. If Microsoft just launched its mobile rocket, Apple's already on the moon.
In the desktop space, of course, it's the other way around.
So it's not really fair to write a post like Brian Caulfield did over at Forbes, attempting to gauge just how much the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system matters to the folks in Redmond.
If Microsoft screws up with its effort to stretch a new interface, dubbed ‘Metro,’ across personal computers and tablets with Windows 8, Cook won’t give anyone a reason not to switch.
This couldn't be further from the truth.
Most Americans in the publishing industry use Apple products -- I'm typing this on a Macbook Pro -- but in return the view can be extremely limited. The truth is this: worldwide, Microsoft dominates the desktop space (92% vs. Apple's 6%); Apple dominates the mobile space (relative to Microsoft), feature phones excepted; and neither company gives a lick what the other is doing.
That's not to say there isn't a lot of pressure on Microsoft to succeed with its Metro-ified Windows 8; there have not been higher expectations for the company since it released Windows XP, in the heyday of the desktop experience. (In many ways, the Windows 8 launch more closely resembles the Windows 3.1-Windows 95 progression -- a dramatic shift, but still early in the overall maturation of the desktop space.)
But the pressure is all internal. This isn't a question of whether Microsoft can beat Apple; this is a question of whether the company can get its act together to deliver a platform that really works for consumers and businesses across multiple devices.
On the desktop, it's not Windows 8 versus OS X, it's Windows 8 versus Windows 7 -- rolling out a product that's worth upgrading to.
In mobile, it's not Windows 8 versus iOS 6, it's Windows Phone 8 versus Windows Phone 7 -- rolling out a product that's mature enough to take on the competition directly.
So when Apple makes its announcements this afternoon, Microsoft might be watching, but only in passing interest. It's got bigger fish to fry -- namely, executing on its plans and making the right moves to make it easier to do so. (Should it acquire Nokia? I argue yes. So does Matthew Miller.)
Our editor-in-chief Larry Dignan says Microsoft deserves some credit for putting its cash cow on the line. I think his point illustrates mine nicely: Redmond's biggest rival right now is itself, not Apple.
Author's note: The original version of this post included mobile statistics which, in hindsight, I don't have a high degree of confidence in. I've stripped them out, though it doesn't change the argument.