Both companies are facing press, partner or investor backlash, and user hostility, or worse, indifference. Apple should be looking to win back lost momentum with the next iPhone announcement while Microsoft will be looking to tie computer, mobile devices and TV together via its next Xbox console.
Microsoft to Finish the Windows 8 Jigsaw
With winter theoretically over and spring stuck in traffic, we can put behind us the recent launches from BlackBerry, Samsung and others, and look to the main courses from two of the old stagers of the computing scene.
Microsoft has apparently delayed until May the announcement of the next Xbox console. While that might just mean playing games for many, it is really about the final piece in Microsoft's Windows 8 puzzle. The current Xbox 360 sits under some 75 million TV sets and already does a fair impression of the Windows 8 tiled interface. It runs most media services and works with a SmartGlass app so you can control elements of the console via a smartphone or tablet.
The next console, however, should be at one with your Windows Phone, Surface tablet, desktop or notebook PC and other devices. With Windows Blue due out this year, expect new levels of interaction between your screens, whatever it is you do.
Games and content could be streamed to all devices, Skype will make it a videophone, Internet Explorer 11 could finally see a decent browser on your big screen and there could be lots of other clever interoperability tricks in the offing. The best of the longstanding rumors is that it will use projection technology to turn your entire room into the game environment, now wouldn't that be something trying out.
Microsoft will be facing off against Sony's recently announced PlayStation 4, with both sides struggling to cope in the world of smartphone and tablet gaming that is slowly transitioning from a casual experience to one that will attract core gamers. When the Xbox 720 or Xbox Next console does arrive, it will be in a blaze of pyrotechnic games and immensely detailed polygons, but look beyond those and see where Xbox could fit into your digital life, as a home server, universal repository or other role.
Apple Looking to Win Back Respect and Stock Value
Apple can play the launch of the iPhone 5S or iPhone 6 in one of two ways. It can play it the "we know best" approach that has served it well for many years. Or, it can bow to some of the pressure it faces from investors, analysts and a hostile press, and decide to evolve its product line and iOS to give users more of what they feel they want.
With Samsung's Galaxy S4 release all lined up with AT&T at a high price, Apple has a rare chance to drastically undercut the opposition with a new value point. Perhaps the iPhone 5S will be the budget iOS phone that analysts are craving.
That would leave the iPhone 6 and iOS 7 to offer buyers something new, above the hardware and feature creep that critics have become bored with in the last couple of iterations. While Apple surely can't produce the bendy screens, wraparound devices and other magic that recent patents have hinted at this generation, it must realize the need to be different and not plow the same furrow.
Certainly the company has been particularly quiet so far this year (by now in 2012, we'd had a new iPad, Apple TV, iBooks 2 and not one gaffe). So, there's hope that Jonny Ive and co have been hard at work. But, if Tim Cook stands on stage waving an iWatch at the press, the knives won't just be out for Apple, but will be slicing away further at the company's stock price.
We've already seen Samsung waving a games controller around at the launch of its latest smartphone and Apple has long been rumored at looking to compete more directly in the games market, using iPad and your HDTV via Airplay and an Apple TV box. Apple was supposed to have been showing one off behind closed doors at this weeks' Games Developer Conference, which might make a major focal point of any launch.
So, book your seats this season as the weather warms up, so will the pressure on the grandees of the computing world to deliver something above and beyond our impossibly high expectations. What would you like to see drop out of the blue spring sky?