I grew up in a bipolar world.
Yes, the USSR vs. USA, but also the bipolar world of Microsoft and Apple. One was ruthless and ruled by corporate power, the other was a stylish tyranny.
Times changed. The USSR fell apart leaving a Russian mafia state ruled by a mobster, and the USA fell into a spiral of fear, wealth concentration, political corruption, and institutional failure. China grew wealthy, but turned into a fascist state run by oligarchs and mobsters. The EU has Greece and Italy and the second Great Depression. India, Brazil, everyone has problems, nobody is a secure Power. Now we live in a multipolar world.
Weirdly, the same thing has happened to the world of computing (now including phones). Microsoft's slow collapse is this week's Vanity Fair special. Google joined the Sith and all it got was dorkware, a human-free social network, and a profit-free phone. Post-IPO Facebook is rich and frail looking. Dell, HP, Motorola, RIM and Nokia are history.
Ahh, but what about Apple? Isn't Apple going from power to power -- even in the old Mac/Windows wars?
That's how it looks - to the press. Today. But I'm just coming off an epic 1 week fiasco involving OS X Lion and iCloud. It ended with me deciding to keep my primary machine on Snow Leopard and reverting my iPhone to iTunes sync after years of MobileMe sync. I'll try again when Mountain Lion is out.
Yes, few people will run into the problems I have had (arising at least in part from an obscure geeky bug with OS X/Unix vs Windows "line termination"). Many people, however, will run into some problems. My experience shows that many months after Apple's grandiose iCloud launch and insane MobileMe/iCloud migration, they still don't have troubleshooting tools and procedures or, amazingly, any way to delete your iCloud.com data. It's as though they thought they'd get everything right the first time -- perhaps because everyone associated with MobileMe was purged.
That's a hell of a miss for a corporation with billions in the bank and a fifteen year history of bungling online services.
Then there's the Apple ID/FairPlay/iCloud problems. My friends are struggling with these. Other friends can't figure out how to manage Ringtones on iTunes.
Perhaps most worrisome of all, Apple is providing mega-compensation packages to its corporate executives because, apparently, they must be retained. An unavoidable step with inevitable consequences. Bad consequences.
Apple doesn't look strong to me. It looks vulnerable.
Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook. None of them are serving me well. None of them are looking all that strong.
All the Empires are falling. My personal balancing act is becoming more complex all the time.