In staging an Apple event on Tuesday to unveil the long-awaited iPad Mini (and, perhaps, updated iMacs and MacBook Airs), Apple is poised to steal a lot of Microsoft's thunder later in the week. On Thursday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will release Windows 8 to the masses and launch Microsoft's first tablet, the Surface RT.
The Surface and similar tablets designed and manufactured by Microsoft's OEM partners -- including some tablet/laptop hybrids -- are supposed to represent the company's response to the iPad. All are designed to be lightweight and portable, offer extended battery life and will run the new Windows RT -- a version of Windows 8 designed for ARM-based devices that includes a touch-enabled, non-commercial version of Office 2013. The devices will attempt to compete with the iPad on look and price and offer a range of features that appeal to consumers and business users alike: higher storage capacity, standard USB ports and expandable storage via SD cards.
Microsoft's event should be a shot across Apple's bow that says Microsoft can deliver a tablet experience as good as, if not better than, Apple's iPad. Microsoft has spent months developing and planning for the launch to ensure its message is loud and clear.
Another Apple frenzy
There's just one problem. Apple, which can create a media frenzy by inviting a select group of technology journalist to an event without even indicating what it will say, has done just that right before the Windows 8 launch. It will almost certainly be an event where Apple will wow the audience with news about how it is expanding its tablet lineup to include new form factors with lower price tags. Apple could even update its current full-size iPad lineup.
If nothing else, Apple will be able to preemptively remind everyone that it defined the tablet market with the original iPad in 2010, that it has the most robust app ecosystem in the world, and that Microsoft is more than two and half years late to the party. That's a pretty powerful message, and one that the mere existence of an Apple iPad Mini delivers without anyone saying anything about Microsoft, Windows 8 or the Surface at all.
Apple's playing hardball, something it's been doing more of lately.
After Steve Jobs died a year ago, there was a constant buzz about what would happen at Apple -- and to Apple. For months, each day brought new headlines questioning whether or not CEO Tim Cook was up to the task of running Apple. Each new product announcement, every response that Apple made to labor and environmental critics, and missteps like the iOS 6 Maps fiasco were fresh fodder for the "Steve would have..." musings by media pundits.
Most of those who weighed in assumed that Jobs would have done a better job handling the event or crisis du jour. But by making that assumption, critics missed an important consideration: Maybe Cook's leadership is actually better for Apple.
Cook may not be the fire brand that Jobs was, but it has become very clear over the past few months that Apple under his leadership remains a force to be reckoned with.
The timing of the iPad Mini announcement -- rumored to have been delayed by manufacturing issues but possibly pushed back to control this week's tablet narrative -- sends a simple message to the Apple's competitors. That message: We are the most successful technology company in the world, we have more resources than you, and we're prepared to bring anything to the table to compete. You are playing on our turf now.
An invigorated Apple
That's a far cry from the Apple of 10 years ago, the one Jobs rescued from ruin and that had only just unveiled the iPod. It's even a far cry from the Apple of five years ago, when it had just released an iPhone that was almost laughable due to limitations like no third-party apps, no 3G connectivity, and its ties to a single carrier (AT&T). In fact, the Apple of today has something of the swagger of the company that brazenly welcomed IBM to the PC market more than three decades ago.