Apple and Microsoft - peace at last

Tim Cook in front of a display showing the iPad Pro at 9 September launch Image copyright Getty Images

Microsoft versus Apple, a rivalry dating back more than three decades, pitching two different visions of what is important in technology against each other.

Fans of each company are particularly bitter in their disdain for the other camp - as either philistines who fail to see that the design of a product is key to its value, or hipster sheep who will pay over the odds for any iDevice.

Which made one feature of Wednesday's Apple event all the more startling. The new iPad Pro had just been unveiled, a tablet which looked to many like a rip-off of the Microsoft Surface Pro, with its keyboard cover and stylus - or rather "Pencil". Remember Steve Jobs's famous words when discussing tablet design: "If you see a stylus they blew it." (Of course, Apple fans will say the Surface ripped off the iPad, and the PC crowd will point to Bill Gates unveiling a tablet PC years earlier, and so the argument goes on back to the dawn of time...)

A while back the iPad Pro would have been the cue for all kinds of chortling from Microsoft's Redmond HQ of the Steve Ballmer "the iPhone doesn't appeal to business customers" variety. Instead, who should stride onto the stage in San Francisco but Microsoft executive Kirk Koenigsbauer, keen to show off what his firm's Office software could do on this new device.

Read how the net reacted to Apple's launch

There could not have been a better illustration of the new strategy under Satya Nadella, the chief executive who has come in and steered the software giant on a new course. Microsoft's future is about offering its very profitable enterprise software in the cloud on all sorts of devices - and that means collaboration not competition.

And while the Surface Twitter account suddenly leaped into action during the Apple event, boasting of the "256 levels of sensitivity" when you put the pen on its tablet's screen, one can't but feel that Mr Nadella has little interest in engaging in a hardware battle with Apple.

Writing off the bill for acquiring the Nokia phone business and slashing thousands of jobs was a sign of that. I was told recently that it is no longer imperative for Microsoft staff to be seen touting Windows Phones around the corporate offices. Some are even using iPhones - after all they need to be sure that Microsoft's productivity apps work on them.

And Surface Pro v iPad Pro looks like a very minor battle. Both are expensive niche products aimed at executives who are ready to abandon their utilitarian laptops for something much more stylish but possibly less practical. I am not convinced that this is a very big constituency although it may grow.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Microsoft chief Satya Nadella

So with no major territory for the two sides to scrap over, peace is breaking out. Apple's "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" adverts", poking fun at Windows customers, and Microsoft's ripostes now seem echoes of a forgotten war.

But while Apple looks to have emerged triumphant, it cannot afford to be complacent. For all the time spent at its event on the new iPad, the Apple Watch and a revamped Apple TV, none of these look like products which will transform the technology landscape.

The key to Apple's future remains the product which has made it worth about twice as much as Microsoft, the iPhone. The new models are bound to sell well, but after the record breaking performance of the iPhone 6 - particularly in China - it will surely be harder in a challenging economic climate to scale new peaks.

Meanwhile, Satya Nadella will continue in his quiet way to build a new Microsoft, with a lot less chest thumping and aggressive pursuit of new territory than in the past. Selling access to Office in the cloud may be less exciting than brandishing a new gadget in front of an adoring crowd, but for Nadella it is the profitable way forward. The war is over, and maybe Apple and Microsoft have both won.

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