In the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates' vision for the company was a "computer on every desk and in every home," all running Windows of course.
And as John Gruber wrote in his short but astute summary of Microsoft's history, the amazing thing is that Gates actually realized this dream. By the mid-90s, if not a few years earlier even, we were living in a Windows world. At its peak, Windows share of the computer market checked in at an astounding 95+%. Even today still, the majority of desktop and notebook computers are running some variant of Windows.
But the computing world today is vastly different than it was 20 years ago. While Bill Gates' original vision centered on a computer on every desk, the battle today is to put a computer in every pocket and in every hand.
Over the past six years, mobile devices have flourished and our definition of "computer" has fundamentally changed. While the computer of yesteryear was essentially a clunky beige box paired with an frustratingly heavy and awkwardly shaped monitor, the modern definition has expanded to include tablets and smartphones; hyper-light and super portable devices capable of accessing the entire history of the world's information from anywhere in the world.
That being said, Benedict Evans last week posted a chart which encapsulates how the dynamic of computing marketshare has been completely turned on its head in just a few short years.
If we count iOS devices as computers, and indeed, there are more reasons to do so than not, last quarter marked the first time Apple sold about as many computers as Microsoft.
A symbolic moment, this: in Q4 2013 the number of computers* sold by Apple was larger than the number of Windows PC sold globally. If you add Windows Phone to the mix they're more or less exactly equal.
This quantum leap in mobile computing is precisely why Tim Cook has been so vocal in championing the notion that that we're currently living in a post-PC era. With the iPhone and the iPad, Apple finds itself at the forefront of the post-PC revolution that Microsoft keeps trying to convince itself isn't happening; hence the mishmash that is Windows 8.
The following chart from Horace Dediu of Asymco further serves to illustrate how the computing landscape shifted with the advent of the iPhone and iPad.
But the bigger story is how Apple's mobile platform has nearly reached the sales volume of Windows. In 2013 there were only 1.18 more Windows PCs than Apple devices sold. Odds are that in 2014 they will be at parity.
At Macworld 1997, Steve Jobs said that the "battle for the desktop is over. And we lost."
What was not apparent at the time was that the next battle would be fought over portable consumer technologies -- MP3 players, smartphones, and tablets.
And now, 17 years later, Apple has finally caught up to Microsoft.