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All PCs great and small: how competition and collaboration is driving tech innovation

Why change is good for consumers

Mac mini

A strange set of competitive and interdependent business relationships is driving innovation in PCs, laptops, smartphones and tablets. And for the consumer that's mostly good news.

Change is constant and rapid in the technology world. But the basic principles remain the same. We want tech to help us achieve and enjoy more, in the quickest and least expensive way. We want hardware that's functional but stylish, and software that's easy to navigate.

We all have opinions about which platform, format or brand is best. That fact doesn't change. But one of the great changes the internet has wrought is that where once our 100,000 print readers had to physically write in to express their views, now any of our 5.5 million readers can offer instant feedback. Trust me: you do.

We have instant feedback on what's going on with real-world consumers. But it can be confusing - for every person who chastises us for 'anti-Apple bias' is another who accuses us of being in Apple's pocket. It's the same story with Microsoft, Google and the rest. We work very hard to be objective, but we live in a world of opinions. You can't please everybody.

This is not a complaint: how brilliant it is that people care that much about tech. But it did mean that we undertook our comparative appraisal of the latest OSes from Microsoft and Apple with a sense of trepidation. Mac vs PC remains a compelling and controversial argument, and has been so since long before I started working as a tech journalist 10 years ago. Right now the balance is at a compelling point. Because of competition from the likes of Google and Amazon the personal computing market is no longer a straight competition between mass-market Windows utility and premium OS X quality. (See the full article: Windows 8 vs OS X Mountain Lion: which is the better operating system?)

Fighting to innovate

At a corporate level lies a strange set of competitive and interdependent relationships: Intel and Microsoft collaborate on laptops and tablets, but Microsoft wants to shift Arm-powered Windows Phones. Google software drives the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9, but also its own 7in competitor. And before you get carried away with the idea that Apple and Samsung are at each other's throats, consider the fact that Samsung is a huge provider of parts for iOS devices. Heck, Office for Mac is a great Microsoft cash cow.

For the consumer competition is good. Competitive innovation is producing a generation of intriguing products. We have been testing and reviewing Windows 8 touchscreen laptops and tiny desktop PCs. It's fascinating not just that these product categories exist, but the variety within them both in terms of features and price. I'm writing this on a Windows 8 laptop and choose this Ultrabook over the Macbook Air for its touchsreen.

I never use the onscreen keyboard, but I interact with the screen via touch for web browsing, photo editing, Powerpoint and interacting with the media apps. It's great. I didn't make a conscious decision, it just happened.

It's unlikely that all the current big tech companies can survive and prosper. The more established is a business the slower is its innovation (Amazon rather than Borders or WH Smith made the leap from bookseller to tech giant). Some firms will fail, others will rationalise into lucrative but non-consumer facing business models – the IBM model. Not all consumers are able to make informed choices when purchasing tech, but for those of us that can the next few years will be a wild ride.

Here's to competition, collaboration and innovation.

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