Had things turned out as originally predicted, the iPad mini launch would have taken place on Wednesday. Or at least that's what the rumor sites suggested until it was too late to send out invitations to the media for such an event. On Tuesday, Apple confirmed the rumored media event for October 23rd, with the significant observation, "We've got a little more to show you."
Rather than hold the event in San Francisco, which has been the usual plan in recent years, this "little" presentation will be held at the California Theater, in San Jose, CA. It may seem a given that Apple stated where it would take place. But you have to consider the peculiar stance taken by Microsoft, when they invited the media to the Surface tablet rollout on July 18 in Los Angeles but didn't reveal the actual location until that morning.
Yes, I suppose Microsoft was under pressure to prove they can innovate, and not just innovate but amaze. The Surface is meant as the "design point" to influence PC makers to deliver compelling Windows 8 computers. Certainly the curious collection of convertible notebooks with swivel displays, and pull out keyboards, haven't gone anywhere. Sony's 20-inch notebook, the VAIO Tap 20, meant to serve as a portable or a stationary all-in-one PC, may be a contender for the worst computer of the year.
By launching the iPad mini next week, there's a good chance that Apple will upstage any announcement or product introduction from the tech industry that week and beyond. One of those product inductions is Windows 8, which goes on sale on October 26.
Imagine Apple receiving the usual round of worldwide coverage for a tinier iPad, maybe a slightly refreshed full-size iPad, and maybe some new Macs. At the same time, Microsoft is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to convince you that Windows 8 is the way and the truth in PC land.
But while millions will fast forward through Microsoft's TV spots, assuming they time-shift or use a DVR to record shows, or take a parlor room break, Apple will receive huge amounts of free advertising in the mainstream and tech media. There will no doubt be some real clever ads to explain the launch of the iPad's baby brother (or sister).
If you've avoided Microsoft's loud and senseless Internet Explorer ads, you probably have a really good idea just how Windows 8 will be launched. The first ads for the Surface tablet have been described as downright bizarre. The incessant and annoying clicks throughout the ad appear to have been borrowed and expanded from the ads for Kit Kat wafer bars.
On the other hand, I signed up to the Surface mailing list back in July. You know how many promotional pieces I've received from Microsoft since then fleshing out the threadbare feature set of the Surface? Absolutely none. When I visited Microsoft's Surface site before writing this article, I found it as spare of useful information as ever. If Microsoft truly plans to sell the Surface RT, the ARM-based version, with the arrival of Windows 8, why isn't there any useful information, or some way to place an advance order?
Well, actually there was, briefly, but the page describing the Surface, with a starting price of $499 for a 32GB version without the keyboard cover, just as quickly disappeared.
Now it's not that I want to constantly see Microsoft fail. Competition is good for the industry, and certainly Google's Android OS is a credible alternative to the iOS. Sure, it may be derivative, though it's also true that some of Android's features aren't available on the iOS yet, and perhaps may never be, because Apple doesn't consider them useful. But customers have a fair choice of smartphones and tablets.
Where does Microsoft fit in this picture? The Windows Phone platform hasn't taken off. Microsoft's decision to block even recent handsets from getting an upgrade to Windows Phone 8 is a totally wrongheaded decision. Overnight, Microsoft gutted sales of existing product, while the flagship Nokia Lumia 920 won't go on sale until next month. Can we also be assured that, when Windows Phone 9 arrives, the upcoming Nokia smartphones won't be able to upgrade either? Does Steve Ballmer's team really know what's going on?
If, despite everything, Windows 8 and the Windows Phone platform do confound expectations of failure, and succeed, good for Microsoft. A third credible competitor in the smartphone industry will be good for everyone.
But Microsoft doesn't have a huge window of opportunity to get the word out before being drowned in a sea of iPad, iPhone, Samsung and Droid ads. If Apple does hold a media event next week, it won't help Microsoft's efforts to get some sorely-needed attention.
But it's all going to make for an interesting holiday shopping season. Meantime, I wonder if Microsoft is busy looking for a new ad agency. They should be.
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