Is Apple losing its coolness edge to Microsoft and Android?

Surface (table, left angled, red cover)

In the contest for coolness, the amorphous concept potentially driving young consumers to smartphones, tablets and other devices, Apple has some competition. While the iPhone maker is seen as cooler now than previously by 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, even more people point to Android as the king of cool.

Even more surprising is Microsoft apparently isn’t your father’s software giant. The Windows maker – long viewed as buttoned-down and behind the technology curve – has revamped its image, thanks largely to the firm’s smartphone and Surface tablet…

According to the Reuters/Ipsos poll (via BusinessInsider), 70 percent of young people who responded gave Android the nod for improved coolness, followed by Apple with 60 percent and Microsoft at 50 percent.

Much of Microsoft’s gains apparently stem from its marketing of the Surface tablet.

In what Reuters described as a “blitz,” the software company has heavily promoted its tablet, using well-known media names and product placements in network television episodes. Then there is a blow-back from Apple’s well-crafted ecosystem connecting hardware, software and services.

A 24-year-old University of South Carolina student while acknowledging Apple is the “hip brand right now,” said the Microsoft phone isn’t as restrictive as the iPhone. “If you want a ringtone, you don’t have to pay iTunes,” he told the news service.

A similar backlash against Apple by trendsetters is happening in Asia, which after massive adoption of the iPhone is now increasingly turning to Android and other alternatives. But trends and the coolness factor don’t always equate to sales.

Research giant Gartner estimates Microsoft accounts for 3 percent of global smartphone sales, its estimated fewer than 900,000 Surface tablets sold in the fourth quarter a shadow of the 23 million iPads sold. Wednesday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer essentially agreed, saying the Surface will never dominate the market.

As for Android, despite it’s 70 percent “coolness” factor in this latest poll, and adoption of multiple devices around the world, Apple continues to get more bang for the buck. As we reported recently, Apple and Samsung account for 103 percent of handset profits.

Meanwhile, Google’s commercials continue to position Nexus as a hip brand.

This means just one Android player has found the right mix for competing with Apple, blowing away the myth that there is this army of Android products all successfully nibbling away at iOS. Indeed, a recent report outlined just how far ahead Apple is against Android.

Which gets us back to coolness of smartphones and tablets.

Trends are not stable markers of performance, just snapshots. As Apple spent the past few weeks in the headlines dealing with uncool details such as its stock value, Microsoft was airing Surface commercials, showing its new Metro design in place of the all-too-familiar Windows screen.

Android was able to play on Apple widespread usage by appealing to young consumers looking to be trend-setters, not trend followers.

But as we began, coolness is amorphous – it doesn’t translate to more sales, more market share or cancel out clunky technology.