There has been a lot of hoopla in the press in the last couple of weeks regarding Apple overtaking Microsoft’s place in the sun. Various commentators have declared that Apple is now the biggest technology company in the world, implying that whilst it is going from strength to strength, Microsoft has become yesterday’s news.

The term “biggest”, however, is rather ambiguous – what metrics are used to measure it? Most commentators seem to base their claims solely on figures such as their relative Market Capitalisations (or worth). From this point of view, Apple is leader as its Market Cap recently hit $245b whereas Microsoft’s has dropped to $220b. But this is all based on share price, which obviously includes investor expectations rather than simply being a snapshot of the current revenues being produced.

If you look at the financials, the picture is a bit different. In the last quarter, Microsoft’s and Apple’s revenues were similar at around $14b, but Microsoft made net profits after tax of $4bn compared to Apple’s $3bn. Three months before that, Microsoft made $6.6b in profit compared to Apple’s $3.3b.

There is an even more important question to be raised: can we really place the two ‘giants’ in the same category under the general term ‘technology’? Although there is the possibility that this might change with the recently launched iPad, most of Apple’s revenue does not derive from computers – the large majority of their earnings come from mobile telephony and media players, and all the related software and applications. Data published in April this year show that in the last quarter, Apple have earned about $3.7bn from sales of desktops and laptops, and over $9bn from sales of iPod and iPhone alone.

In the same period, Microsoft earned $7.7bn from Windows products, Servers and Tools, and only $1.66 bn from entertainment devices such as the Xbox. Microsoft is also thought to own 90% of the computer operating system market.

From this data we could say that, at least for now, Microsoft is still by far the biggest computer technology company – Apple still has some way to go before overtaking its place in the world of computing.

What’s getting people excited is Apple’s apparent ability to keep producing new and aesthetically pleasant gadgets that people want to buy. Whilst the iPhone 4 looks great, the jury is still out on whether the iPad will maintain the impetus surrounding its launch, and the adoption of both for business use is still dubious. We could in fact say that even if Apple’s Tablet manages to increase their earnings from computer products, the two giants can still coexist in the market as they have two different customers – Apple’s bias is towards the consumer market, whereas Microsoft dominates the business market.