When Apple unveils its newest gadget on
Tuesday morning, the Silicon Valley company will kick off what could
turn out to be one of the most telling weeks ever seen in the tech
Just days after the Apple unveiling, both its major rivals Google and Microsoft will also release major new products. Their goal is simple: to knock Apple off its perch as the world's top technology company and win what Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt earlier this month called "the defining fight in the industry today."
The timing is no coincidence. In always-on ever-connected times, mobile devices top most people's holiday wish list and gadget makers are hoping that a new crop of shiny new playthings will prove irresistible to holiday buyers around the world.
Most pundits and analysts expect Apple to announce a new iPad, a 7.8-inch version of the genre-defining tablet, despite the derision of such a small form factor by Steve Jobs, the company's iconic founder.
If the reports are correct, the new Apple device will go head to head with a plethora of other mini tablets from the likes of Google and Amazon which have undercut the market from Apple's far more expensive 10-inch iPad.
Since Apple launched the iPad in 2010, sales have exploded at the expense of traditional PCs and laptops, as millions of users choose tablets instead of their second computer, and sometimes even as their primary computing device.
Research firm Display Search predicts that tablet sales will surpass laptop sales by 2016, but they are already taking a huge chunk of the market. In the second quarter of this year tablet sales increased by 75 per cent compared to the previous year. With 24 million units shipped, they comprised 22 per cent of all computers sold. PC sales in the same period were flat, while they dropped more than 8 per cent in the third quarter.
That trend is not lost on Microsoft, which built its fortune on personal computers but has badly missed the big growth markets that followed, starting with the internet and including more recently smartphones and tablets.
On Thursday, Microsoft is to officially release its Windows 8 operating system, a package of software that the company calls its most important launch since Windows 98 almost 15 years ago. CEO Steve Ballmer is hoping the new OS will finally give the company a foothold in its missed markets, with the generous help of a massive marketing campaign estimated to cost 1.8 billion dollars.
But Microsoft is betting on its entire future strategy, and could risk alienating loyal PC customers with a new interface that's a radical departure from the company's traditional Windows design.
Instead of the usual start button and keyboard and mouse control device, Windows 8 relies on a display of tiles to access programs and is built as much for touchscreen control as the trusty keyboard and mouse.
Microsoft says it has over 1,000 partner products lined up for the new software, but the most attention will be focused on its Surface tablet, which goes on sale, also on Thursday, and has already sold out in pre-order offers.
For non-tablet users the new software will certainly take some getting used to and early studies show users clearly confused by the new design.
"When it comes to the traditional customer base, the office computer user, they're essentially being thrown under the bus," web usability experts Jakob Nielsen told Computerworld Monday.
Google won't be sitting idly by as its competitors make key moves to lure in the holiday shoppers. Next Monday it is expected to announce major new Android tablets and smartphones in collaboration with LG and Samsung.
The success of these various initiatives may not decide just what's under the Christmas tree, but the shape of the tech world for years to come.
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