Last time we looked at Apple’s conversion from a computer company to a phone company that also makes computers. We considered why Apple doesn’t give a damn about enterprise sales, which explains their embrace of third-party enterprise components like Microsoft’s Exchange Server. Now we’ll look closer still at what plans — if any — Apple even has for personal computers in its future.

With impeccable timing, Mrs. Cringely last week stood in line four hours at the Apple Store to get her new iPhone 4. The line was cheerful, she said, Apple provided umbrellas to protect customers from the sun, bottles of water, and even pizza. I think the bottles of water were key in this case because the only way I have ever seen Charlestonians be willing to stand in line is if the drinks are free.

Her iPhone 4 is significantly faster, the screen is pretty and the unit feels heftier in the hand but we can’t say much else yet. It’s too soon. We can say plenty, however, about how Apple managed to create a publicity frenzy by faking a product shortage that turned out not to really exist.

In retrospect Mrs. Cringely wishes she’d stayed home and bought the phone at her leisure a week later.

An integral part of iPhone 4 mania, of course, is the new operating system — iOS 4. Remember how important it once was for Apple to claim that the iPhone was running OS X? What happened to that? Is iOS 4 a version of OS X or not? And what does this apparent OS bifurcation mean for the non-portable product line? Is OS X going away?

OS X is here for now, I’m told, and iOS 4 is still OS X but specifically for the new A4 chip and others of its family that will shortly appear. We’ll see non-portable A4 products from Apple and they’ll run iOS 4, too, establishing it as a kind of consumer electronic operating system for the company. This bifurcation and differentiation is key to understanding both Apple’s strategy and the philosophy — yes, philosophy — that underlies it.

One of the first non-portable iOS 4 devices we’ll see, I predict, will look a heck of a lot like the new Mac Mini. Steve Jobs, who loves to play language games as long as he controls them, says there are no plans to update the AppleTV. Yet Engadget is all aflutter with talk of an iOS-based AppleTV (essentially an iPad without a screen). I think the new Mac Mini effectively is the next AppleTV. Notice they never did call it the MacTV. With the new Mac Mini already sharing a common form factor with the AppleTV, I can imagine an A4-based version appearing shortly at a $299 price running iOS 4. Expect to link an iPhone or iTouch to this A4-based AppleTV as a remote control device.

And get ready for a big leap of strategic thinking from Cupertino.

The number one game console in the USA is Nintendo’s Wii, primarily because it has a Bluetooth-connected motion-sensing remote control. Well iPhones and iPod Touches have Bluetooth, too — and WiFi, accelerometers, and now even gyroscopes. A Mini-turned-AppleTV controlled by the installed base of tens of millions of iPhones and iPod Touches is a game market waiting to be exploited. Yes, the “console” costs more (for now) but thanks to the App Store the games can cost less, making the total user expenditure the same or less. It’s the old Return-On-Investment (ROI) argument only applied to games.

Video games are the one huge market Apple has yet to touch and the last one where Microsoft can still pretend to contend for technology leadership. A $299 AppleTV that has a serious content strategy, HD-Wii performance, and good games priced from $2.99-$6.99 would kick ass at Christmas. Yes, it is too expensive and the games are too puny for real gamers, but not too expensive or too puny to sell the 2-4 million units Apple likes when entering any new market.

That’s $1 billion in easy Christmas revenue for Apple from what’s essentially a marketing head feint.

Phones, games, TV’s — Apple’s future clearly lies with consumer electronics, not with personal computers as we have long thought of them. With Windows 8 reportedly aiming directly for OS X, Apple needs to be where Windows is not — which is in the home in consumer devices too cheap for an effective OEM strategy.

Apple needs to distinguish itself yet again in a world moving very quickly toward computer ubiquity.

How ordinary.

And so the PC business is no longer of any real interest for Steve Jobs because he sees no future in it. Steve isn’t one for sentimentality, especially when there are competitors to be crushed.

If Apple can no longer show a discernible difference in user experience between OS X and Windows 8, then much of the Apple magic will be gone. So he has to move ahead before he is left behind.  There is room for neither sentimentality nor inertia.

The digital kids of today are growing tired of things the way they were. So Apple is using the iPhone and iPad to move information, content creation, and entertainment out of the old world and into a new one. The way Steve prevents the logo on the box syndrome is to leave the box behind. Its both brilliant and inevitable.

Competitors that still think strictly in terms of individual features and form factors won’t grasp the significance of what’s going-on here. Steve is out to make them obsolete. Apple has mothballed the whole notion of vying for computer market share and is instead moving as fast as it can to redefine the whole computing model for consumers using networked mobile devices.

Remember when Ballmer talked through his hat a few years ago about how Microsoft was headed to a model of Windows based primarily on ad revenue? There’s no way in Hell that business model can be sustained for Windows or the PC (or for Macs, either). But make the platform cost $199 and be replaced every 24 months, build-in mobile subscription revenue, MobileMe subscription revenue, content revenue, app revenue and ad revenue, with none of those involving much effort or expense on Apple’s part at all and the future becomes clear.

And Apple plans to own it.