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Did Microsoft just out-cool Apple?

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 25/01/2017 Jefferson Graham

Remember "Think Different?" or those "Mac vs. PC" ads featuring a stodgy gent from another era and the ultra-hip Mac dude?

Fast forward a few years, and now, thanks to the Surface all-in-one notebook/laptop and a Windows operating system that's not buggy, Microsoft is looking like the cool kid, while Apple has turned into the stale, old company. That, at least, is the opinion of Matt Krantz, the long-time USA TODAY Markets columnist, who recently left for a new gig at a Los Angeles money management firm this week. 

Krantz and I sat together for one final #TalkingTech podcast to talk about the dramatic shift in perception for Microsoft. Click the link below to listen.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4© Microsoft Microsoft Surface Pro 4 What happened to Apple? Chalk it up to the death of co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011. "He was an amazing person who could sell ice water to eskimos," says Krantz. "Without him, Apple is just a hardware company. You've seen the innovation slowly chip away."

Since Jobs died, only one major new product has been released, the 2015 Apple Watch, along with upgrades to already popular products like the iPhone, iPad and Macintosh computer. "Microsoft got forced to innovate," Krantz says. "They saw all the growth with Apple, and knew they had to come up with something better. Being good wasn't good enough."

Microsoft first introduced the Surface as a tablet meets laptop with a touchscreen surface in 2012. It was Microsoft's first major computer hardware release, and has evolved into a strong seller and innovative product category that's as powerful in a light, totable form factor as more expensive Apple MacBook Pro computers. At one time, Apple owned TV product placement, but now the Surface is being seen on more TV shows, including the CNN set. 

In the third quarter of 2016, Microsoft said revenue from Surface products realized $926 million, up 38 percent from the $672 million the prior year. That's a far cry from the $5.7 billion reported by Apple for Mac revenue in the fiscal 2016 4th quarter, but Macs are also an older product.   

Where Microsoft has struggled has been catching up to both Apple and Google in smartphones. The Lumia line is seemingly on its last legs, but several blogs have reported about another try, with a Surface phone/tablet that could come out this year.

Microsoft filed a patent recently for a foldable tablet/phone, and Krantz can't wait. "Smartphones have gotten boring," he says. "It's time for something different. Think of the phone becoming becoming your computer and getting down to one device. That's where I think it's going. "

Have a few more minutes to spare? Also listen as we say goodbye to Matt Krantz, with one final "Ask Matt," on investment tips, the audio edition. 

* Microsoft publishes MSN

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