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Oct 17, 2012

Technology :: Apple's iPad Mini Brackets Microsoft's Surface In The Tablet Media War

So now we know the date of Apple’s next launch, Tuesday October 23rd, and everything is pointing towards the announcement of the iPad Mini. Of course many in the Cupertino-watching industry were expecting an announcement last week. Why go for a date later in the month?

First of all, the Occam’s Razor approach is simply that earlier in October wasn’t right for Apple and they needed another week or two to be ready. That could simply be a logistics issue, an area of the software or production that needed a few more days testing to sign off, or perhaps this the plan all along – to gain extra publicity from the earlier date and feed this into the increasing hype around the iPad Mini.

Be it co-incidence, contingency, or careful planning, the 23rd of October is a very useful date for the success of Apple’s diminutive tablet. It’s going to occupy a lot of column inches, covering the launch, reporting on the first few journalists who get review units, discussions over the pricing and the strategy, and that is going to take a lot of the oxygen out of the tech circles. Apple would gain this coverage any point in October, so this isn’t a case of the PR team making sure there are no competing stories. In fact it’s the complete opposite. Apple has rolled up a very loud truck onto Microsoft’s media lawn.

Microsoft will be debuting Windows 8 that week, with the initial release schedule for October 26th. It’s fair to say that Microsoft is putting a lot of effort into marketing and getting the word out – and with Cupertino’s invite, they’re not going to be the focus of the story. Neither will Windows Phone 8 get to be the focus on October the 29th. Even though a week will have passed since the iPad Mini launch, the recent coverage of the iPhone 5 shows that the coverage between the launch and the general availability of an Apple product remains very high.

While the clash with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 is intriguing, the biggest clash is going to be against Microsoft’s own hardware launch with the Surface RT Tablet.

More than the rise of the Android tablets (where success is either fragmented over a number of Operating System and UI versions, or restricted to Amazon), Microsoft’s Surface tablet poses a real danger to Apple. Surface will sit alongside Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 as a cohesive system, it will integrate into existing businesses and IT systems; it’s fashionable, stylish, and looks the part; and like the iPad Mini we have no idea what the price will be!

The iPad Mini is going to sell in the millions. It’s unlikely that the Surface RT will match those numbers, but the challenge of the Surface to Apple’s tablet dominance is clear. Yes, it’s going to be a business first approach to sales and will need strong support from Windows 8 and Windows Phone to become established, but the potential is there.

Microsoft knows that this is the moment, potentially the last moment, to be influential in computing over the next decade, and are doing everything to make the October launches count. The industry, Apple included, know that as well.

In the days after Microsoft’s announcements, it’s likely the iPad Mini will go on sale, with record numbers, huge queues, and the digital column inches flooded once more with glowing reviews of the latest Apple product. Who’s going to give the Surface a fair crack over the home plate with that? The Surface will inevitably be drawn into a direct comparison with the iPad Mini, when they are products with different aims and target markets. Invariably when the Surface is measured against the iPad it won’t be a better iPad than the iPad.

Perhaps it’s a co-incidence. Perhaps that’s just how it all worked out for Apple in terms of shipping, stock management, and booking a venue.
But it’s still very useful timing.

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