Krugman: Apple might be in bigger trouble than Microsoft

While admitting he's not a tech expert, famed New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman says that Apple relies on individual, whimsical purchasers, while Microsoft relies on conservative IT managers.

Not an Apple fanboy. Econprof1936/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It's odd how the retirement of a CEO can focus large minds.

What does this mean? Where will his company go without him? Who will win and who will lose? What is winning and what is losing?

Somehow, few consider the notion that it's strange anyone would want to be CEO for as long as Steve Ballmer.

There's surely something quite charming about saying: "I've had enough of this."

Still, famed columnist and economist Paul Krugman dwells not on this human aspect, but another: the idea that Microsoft might depend on more conservative humans than does Apple.

In a New York Times piece posted Saturday, Krugman ponders the symmetries between Apple and Microsoft.

He concludes that Cupertino might just have a more troubled future than Redmond.

His logic comes down to the idea that Microsoft's core purchaser is a conservative IT manager, while Apple's is the mere fickle human consumer.

While admitting he isn't a tech expert, Krugman says: "As far as I can tell Apple products no longer have a dramatic quality edge."

Many would agree with this notion. When I got my iPhone 5, I found it disappointingly similar the iPhone 4. We fickle humans crave drama, after all.

Meanwhile, Samsung's larger screens clearly captivated many whose eyesight was failing ; whose virtual egos were expanding to more and more areas of the Web; or who just wanted a change from the Apple ecosystem.

For them, size wasn't everything, but it was a lot.

For Krugman, there aren't so many differences between Apple and Samsung. He's disappointed with the iPad Mini too. He's tired of "fighting iOS in order to do simple things." He's tired, in fact, of fighting the controlling spirit of Steve Jobs.

With Microsoft, though, he sees "an incredible success story -- it maintained its PC lock for decades, and in fact still retains that lock today; it's just that the market is changing."

It is, indeed, changing. But Krugman believes that IT managers, being inherently conservative, won't move away from Microsoft as quickly as the flighty, normal human might find something shinier and newer beyond Apple.

Those who favor Apple will point to a CRIP report that suggests the iPhone captured three times as many customers from Samsung as the other way around.

At heart, though, the truth might be even simpler and sadder for those who have followed the rise of two such impactful companies.

They might both have seen their best days. They might both represent a certain era, a certain moment, and a certain attitude.

The only question is where the next great competitor might come from. It doesn't seem as if any company has truly captured any sort of zeitgeist and owned it.

It seems not unlike the market for economists. One day, everyone listens to this economist. The next day, another one. The third day, that one is debunked.

Such is the carousel of capitalism.

 

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